Core to Extremity

This Friday night, Dr. Brooke Miller is coming to visit us for a “Restore Your Core” workshop talking about all things core. We’ll let her talk about the “how,” but today, we want to tackle the “what” and “why.” If you aren’t RSVP’d yet, head over to our event on Facebook to let us know you’re coming. This event is free to the public and starts at 7pm sharp!

What is CrossFit?

I won’t go into the full lecture now (if you want that, you should attend a CrossFit Level 1 Trainer seminar!), but here are the main points. Fitness is defined as “work capacity across broad time and modal domains” - aka I can do any and everything no matter how heavy, light, long, short, gymnastics, monostructural movements, or weightlifting, I can do it all. So in order to increase our fitness, the CrossFit training program by definition is “constantly varied, functional movements performed at high intensity.” That’s the method we use in order to get there.

Today we are going to break down the second point, functional movements, but more specifically, what does it mean for a movement to be a “core to extremity” movement.

Core Strength & Conditioning Program

Within our context of functional movements, CrossFit is considered a “core strength & conditioning program.” Our entire goal for how to increase our fitness, is to strengthen our core, and to condition our core. Take everything you know about fitness or health or any athletic endeavor, and let’s boil it all down to core strength and core conditioning.

For starters, without your core, your insides would fall apart and you wouldn’t be able to stand up. But more applicable to our situation, our core strength and our core conditioning is what allows us to perform functional movements. In order to be considered a functional movement, we must be able to move a large loads, long distances, quickly. So let’s think through all of our movements in the gym and how each day in class, we are doing 2-3 movements that move a large load (either dumbbell, barbell, or even our our body weight) for a long distance (ground to overhead, hanging from the bar to touching the bar with our toes, etc.) as quickly as we can (usually either AMRAP or For Time). All of our functional movements are considered “core to extremity” movements because it’s the most efficient way to move these large loads for long distances as quickly as possible.

Core to Extremity

We want a good core. We want abs. We want to be functional. We want to improve our performance in the Open or at our job or in our regular life outside the gym. And inside the gym, we all want a bigger 1RM Power Clean, faster mile, and more unbroken pull-ups, right? So let’s get specific.

Every single one of our foundational functional movements should originate with the core, and then move to the extremities. In this instance, our core is our midsection. The main players here are the abdominals, obliques, erectors, and pelvic floor. These muscle groups make up our core. Our extremities refers to mostly our limbs, our body parts on the extreme. Or in other words, the body parts that are far away from our core.

Think about all the main muscle groups that are close to your core and how “strong” they are compared to the muscle groups that are closer to your extremities. Think of your butt and leg strength versus the strength in your toes, or the strength in your back and lats versus the strength in your forearms.

Let’s take this example. If I were to hand you a 20-lb. Medicine Ball and tell you to give it a bear hug and hold it as long as you could, you could probably stand there for hours and hours. Because it’s close to your core. What if I gave you the same Medicine Ball and told you to hold it in both hands out away from your body at arm’s length? How long would you last? Maybe a few minutes at the most? That’s because now the weight is at your extremes, not close to your core.

This basic example is easy to understand. So what about more dynamic movements like a push-up? Have you ever tried to do a push-up with your hands super wide? It’s way more difficult than having your hands directly under you. Same for a barbell, what’s easier - a wide grip strict press or a strict press with your hands just outside your shoulders? Same thing goes for trying to do a deadlift with the bar far away from your shins versus close to your shins. It’s much easier to pick up a deadlift when the bar is centered over our shoelaces instead of 12 inches out in front of us.

This is our basic principle. Functional movements are most efficiently performed in a core to extremity fashion. We start with the weight or external load close to our core, then rapidly move that weight to our extremities. All of our movements follow this pattern. They originate near our core, and finish in a position at our extremes. These are the movements that give you the most bang for your buck. They get you the fittest the fastest. That’s why every class we focus on 2-4 core to extremity movements. Yesterday’s workout included the Assault Bike, Wall Ball, DB Snatch, and Toes to Bar. Think about how the wall ball originates in the front rack position, then I rapidly extend my core (my legs and hips) first, and then I extend my arms for the push. If I were to push with my arms first or arms only, I’d have a very difficult time throwing a ball 10 ft. into the air. Same with the DB Snatch or the T2B. I start with the DB on the ground, I pull it into my hips near my core, then I rapidly extend my hips to launch the DB up into the air and finish out with my arms.

Isolated Movements

From time to time, we will perform some isolated movements, but they don’t give us the same return (fitness) on our investment (working out). While doing a bunch of crunches or bicep curls sounds nice to increase capacity in those specific muscles, it violates our core to extremity principle. Thus, I can “pull-up” much more weight than I can bicep curl. I can “toes to bar” more weight than I could “crunch”. In these cases, my “weight” is my own body. In some cases, we can use isolated movements to help enhance our functional movements, but in most cases, your time is better spent on our foundational movements. Using the leg extensions machine doesn’t allow us to move large loads, long distances, quickly in the same way that a back or front squat does. So while there is some benefits to isolated movements like during physical therapy to fix an imbalance or other similar cases, our time is much better spent performing movements that originate at the core and move to our extremities.

So Now What?

Well, if I want to improve my running, clean & jerk, and toes to bar, and all these movements originate at my core… then we need to strengthen and condition our core! It’s that simple! We NEED our core to perform these movements. A weak core can be detrimental to our performance in the gym which eventually translates to our results outside the gym. By adding strength and stamina to our core’s muscle groups, we can see an improvement in all aspects of our performance.

I’ll leave you with two pieces of homework:

1. Next time you hear your coach talking about a movement, think about how to use your core to improve that movement. When we’re snatching, pull the bar in close to your hips rather than looping it up, away, and around like a candy cane. When we’re doing toes to bar, keep your core tight and snappy during your kip swings rather than loosey goosey. When we are doing deadlifts on Thursday, keep that bar close. You should feel the steel on your shins and thighs rather than let it get far away from you! And when we’re doing warm ups with planks and hollow holds, remember that these core strength and conditioning movements are the fast track way to improving any and all aspects of your fitness!

2. Come to the “Restore Your Core” Workshop with Dr. Brooke Miller on Friday night at 7pm. The event is open to members and non-members, so bring your friends too!