I would rather be chilling on the couch, sleeping, comfortable, but I just gotta self-discipline man. It's easy to give up and not go but when I'm tired it really makes me realise like oh shit, you know, sometimes you gotta do some shit you don't wanna do.
– Brandon Biebel
the right way to train your core for skateboarding | part 1.
So this is the first video in at least a 2 part series talking about something that’s even more important than your actual board in terms of allowing you to skate – your core. In this article I’ll go over how proper control of your core is fundamental in allowing you to skate good and to reduce the risk of injuries, and then I'll show you some some core exercises for skateboarders that will teach you to properly stabilise your core.
what is the core?
So first off what is the core and what does it do? Well contrary to popular belief the core is much more than just your abs and it does much more than help you do a sit-up; it consists of multiple layers of muscles (amongst other things) located anywhere from your knees to your shoulders, and one of its primary roles is to stabilise your body.
It does this by contracting many different muscles at the right time, in the right order, and at the right intensity. Some muscles wrap around your abdomen that tighten from all sides to compress your abdomen and stiffen your spine, whereas others work to stabilise you in different ways; for example your pelvis is in part stabilised by muscles pulling on opposite sides of it (see image below).
Essentially a proper functioning core creates a solid block that acts as a platform for your arms and legs to push off and create force, along with limiting micro-movements of your spine which cause injury, along with protecting you from injury in general.
Parts of the core you might not normally consider.
Photo from NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise textbook
The way many of us live our lives these days – constantly sitting or in a forward flexed position on computers and phones – creates imbalances all throughout the body, and as a result it’s not uncommon that someone can’t properly activate their core and stabilise themselves properly when they move in general or skate. Overtime this can lead to back pain and pain throughout the rest of the body, injuries, and maybe most importantly to you – can make you skate worse.
The ability to properly stabilise your core when you skate will enhance so many aspects of your skating, and not just the things you might think of like helping you balance in slides/grinds/mannys, but it can also help increase your pop, and just straight up making skating easier. Think about bending down to pop a trick and your pelvis and spine moving, it would completely put you off balance and change the direction and effectiveness of the forces you’re trying to generate to pop that trick, that's something that happens when you can't properly stabilise yourself. Core training for skateboarding might never have been something you thought you needed to do, but it can really make a big difference.
retraining the core & a neutral spine.
So how do we retrain our core to function properly when we move and skate? Well first you need to learn what a neutral spine is - the most optimal position for your spine to be in and for you to stabilise from.
To do this stand up straight with your shoulders back and your head and shoulders stacked above your hips in a straight line (this might be difficult for someone with excessive nerd neck). Now we need to find the “neutral zone” of your lower back. To do this place your hands on your hips, and roll your pelvis forwards and backwards as far as you can, but without forcing it – the midpoint between the two extremes is your “neutral zone”. This position you’re hopefully standing in now – at least from your hips to your head – is the position you want to maintain throughout all the exercises I’m going to show you and during the majority of exercises you’re ever going to do.
A neutral spine.
Photo from NASM Essentials of Corrective Exercise textbook
the big 3 exercises.
Alright so now you’ve got the neutral spine down we can begin with this quick core workout for skateboarding. These 3 core exercises are called the Big 3 and they’re recommended by the world’s leading expert of the spine and everything related to the core, Dr. Stuart McGill. These exercises are going to retrain all parts of your core to fire properly and in the right pattern, and ingrain that pattern to stabilise you properly as you move and skate. You might be a little surprised by the fact that there's no movement, but if you think about it, what's the role of the core? To provide stability and in most situations, not move. So that's how you should train it.
If you have no friends to give you feedback, you can use a mirror to make sure you’re maintaining that neutral spine throughout. For the bird dog you can also place a ball on your lower back to make sure you’re maintaining a good position laterally.
McGill recommends also adding a little spinal mobility exercise in there beforehand. Practice these exercises every day, and once you’ve got them down and can maintain a neutral spine throughout every rep, you can move on to the exercises in the next video. For a beginner this might take about 2-3 weeks to dial. Throughout each exercise you also want to learn how to breathe whilst maintaining your core active.
reps and sets:
Stuart McGill recommends doing a pyramid style rep scheme and holding each rep for 10 seconds. Pause for 20-30 secs in between sets. For example:
- Set 1: 6 reps, 10 seconds each rep
- Set 2: 4 reps, 10 seconds each rep
- Set 3: 2 reps, 10 seconds each rep
To increase the intensity add more sets and reps, don't increase the hold longer than 10 secs. Eg sets of 10, 8, 6, 4, 2 reps.
the big three.
0. cat camel
Get on your hands and knees and slowly arch your back upwards, tucking your head down whilst exhaling.
Curve your spine the other way and look upwards whilst inhaling.
Hold each position for a few seconds and do 5-6 reps.
1. partial curl-up
Lie on your back with a neutral spine, with one knee bent and one straight out.
Place your hands under your lower back to help maintain that neutral spine.
Lift only your head and your shoulders a tiny bit off the floor, literally a few centimetres. Don't lift your whole upper back off the floor.
To make it harder, contract your abs first, lift your elbows off the ground, and then start the exercise.
2. side plank
Lie on your side with a neutral spine and place the foot of your upper leg in front of your lower leg.
Put your hand on your opposite shoulder, contract your core and lift yourself up so you form a straight line from head to toe.
Repeat for both sides.
3. bird dog
Start on your hands and knees with a neutral spine. You can place a ball on your lower back to help you control your position laterally.
Contract your core and raise your right leg straight back behind you and your left arm in front of you whilst clenching your fist.
Make sure you control the movement so you aren't moving at all.
If you find yourself moving a lot or it's too hard, do 1 limb at a time - first your leg, then your arm.