The top priority for youngsters is to “train” core muscles to work in concert with the muscles that move limbs.

The trend in adult fitness programs to isolate core muscles to build six-pack abs is precisely what children and adolescents should NOT do. Why? 1. Isolating muscles does NOT increase athleticism, which is the very purpose for EVERY exercise when training young athletes. 2. According to Professor Stuart McGill, a world-renowned expert on this subject, Rectus Abdominus (six-pack abs) is not the most important of the core muscles for athletic performance. 3. Sit-ups may be harmful to a healthy back.

That’s a lot of myth-busting when we consider how popular the propaganda is to isolate core muscles. It’s all over the internet, and there are hour-long TV programs with gimmicks to build six-pack abs. I do not write to argue against that fitness trend for adults; my purpose is to help steer the training of young athletes in a better direction.

McGill also works with patients suffering back injuries, and some of the discussion and photos relate to slow, therapeutic exercises. But some exercises – like vigorously rotating a heavy med ball on a rope around your body overhead – are examples of core training in a dynamic, athletic motion. This is similar to the stress on core muscles in a hockey game.

The top priority for youngsters is to “train” core muscles to work in concert with the muscles that move limbs. In other words, our job as coaches is to promote SYNERGY of movement. All great athletes have it, and the analogy to a concert orchestra is appropriate. The final product is so much greater than the sum of the pieces – whether it’s the sum of individual muscles or individual members of an orchestra. That’s synergy.

It’s how the muscles (or musicians) fit together that matters. Therefore, core training should be combined with other dynamic exercises. Be creative in finding exercises that mimic the awkward ranges and speeds of motion in hockey.

Stuart McGill’s articles are highly recommended. This one is a good start.

Former NHL player (and now a sports scientist) Curt Brackenbury (right) demonstrates a dynamic core exercise that is important for contact battles in hockey.

A braced cylindrical core is the key to tossing the heavy med ball high in the air – actually more important than the strength of shoulder/arm muscles.