Core Reaction

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If you’re looking for your core to work like a locomotive — fast and strong — you may want to incorporate some kickboxing on the heavy bag. Canadian researchers at the University of Waterloo and Adrenaline Performance Center in Montreal measured the muscle activation in five elite mixed-martial arts athletes while they performed numerous strikes to the heavy bag. They found that the muscle contracted twice during each move. The first peak was at the beginning of the move, possibly to enhance stability. Then some muscles relaxed and experienced a second contraction on contact with the bag/opponent. The researchers concluded in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research that these contraction-relaxation-contraction pulses help achieve speed and strike force and help train rates of activation and of relaxation.

Want to put this to work for you? You could either add kickboxing or marital arts classes to your training regimen. Or you could add a bit of heavy-bag work to your existing gym workout, incorporating the spinning back kick, which activated the most core musculature.

Spinning Back Kick

Setup: Stand with your legs shoulder-width apart, with the left foot a step ahead of the right, weight distributed evenly. Hold your arms in front of you with your fists clenched.

Movement: In a quick fluid motion, turn your left foot so that the heel is facing your target and your weight is on your left leg. At the same time, turn your glutes toward the bag and keep your eyes on the target. Raise your right knee into the air. Your back should be facing the bag, but you should continue to look at the bag. Thrust your right leg straight back like a donkey kicking. Repeat for 10 reps, then switch sides.

12 x 15

Twelve repetitions of 15 seconds performing three stretches can help increase your hip range of motion over time, says Spanish researchers in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.What three stretches should you do? For the first stretch, stand and bend forward as far as you can. The second stretch, sit on a bench with both legs extended in front of you and bend forward keeping your back straight. The third stretch, sit on a bench with your left leg extended in front of you and lean forward as far as you can; repeat for 15-second holds/reps, then switch legs. In all, keep your head in the neutral position looking straight ahead, your hands on your hips and your legs fully extended.