Core strength plays a supportive, albeit critical, role in locomotive sports like skimo racing. That role is to provide a stable platform from which the arms and legs can perform their locomotive functions. While core exercises are basic and not necessarily sport specific, they can provide a needed base of support for sport-specific training. 

To develop core strength is often challenging because you first need to learn how to engage some very deep muscles that are primarily used to stabilize the spine, hips, and shoulders and not for locomotion. This makes them hard to access and notice. These guys aren’t moving big joints through big angles like the quads, for instance, so don’t get discouraged with slow progress. It’s normal.

The core muscles, especially the deep stabilizers, are mainly made up of slow twitch fibers. This imbues them with a lot of endurance but not a lot of strength. Increasing their strength even a little can make a big difference for most people, and especially athletes.

A Max Strength Approach to Core Development

I prefer to tackle core strength training using a max strength protocol, just like you’d do for the prime mover muscles. That means using 90 percent max voluntary contractile force for 2–4 reps (or 4–6 seconds when used in an isometric contraction). But, also like max strength training for the prime mover muscles, this means adding enough resistance to the movement or isometric hold to  elicit that 90 percent recruitment. This can take some creativity.

Weight vests work well for the plank-type isometrics like the three-point and side plank. Heavy shoes work well for the hanging leg raise. A bigger dumbbell can help with the kayaker. You get the idea. There is no formula except to find enough resistance to cause you to reach failure in just a few reps or a few seconds of the isometric holds. Try for strict form so you target the weakest muscles in the chain rather than relying on stronger muscles. Those stronger muscles can end up compensating for the weaker ones’ inability to provide the stability. If you feel your form break down, such as shaking and wobbling, then you’ve overloaded that set of motor units and done the job of providing an adequate training stimulus.

Core Strength for Skimo

If you’re considering skimo racing, then I think it’s safe to assume you’re generally fit. So to get started today, use Scott’s Killer Core Routine from our Training for the New Alpinism book to screen for strengths and weaknesses in your core. Figure out which exercises are easy, hard, and impossible for you to do. The easy exercises will become the warm-up. Then pick three to four of the harder ones to use for the actual strength-building exercises. The impossible ones, probably L-sit and straight arm/leg hanging leg raise, can be used to test for strength gains later.

These workouts should not be exhausting. Like any good max strength workout, they should leave you feeling energized, not enervated. A typical workout will consist of 4–5 sets of 3–4 reps at 90 percent of max with a 1-minute recovery between each set of the several exercises you have chosen.

-by Uphill Athlete co-founder Scott Johnston

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