Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you're an elite athlete, there is an extremely high chance that you have a dysfunctional core. Don’t get me wrong, I know you have a strong core as you master feats that would bring others to tears. A strong core, however, is not necessarily a core that functions correctly or optimally.
It may surprise you to know that the majority of my athlete clients have a dysfunctional core and fail the initial assessment tests I perform (I estimate 9 out of 10). Essentially, I am assessing the functionality of the neural drive from the motor control center of your brain to the muscles of your core, is the nervous system able to correctly interpret incoming proprioceptive stimuli and can it output the correct muscle firing pattern to respond accordingly. The muscles that have a primary role in stabilizing your core include (but are not limited to) the transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, multifidus, quadrates lumborum and the psoas.
Somewhere along the way you have injured yourself and in a desperate attempt to maintain your optimal performance, your brain has developed a compensation pattern. On my website, I use the example of a QL compensating for the role of a glute medius that has sustained tissue damage. Problems arise when the glute med’s damage is repaired but the brain doesn’t revert to the original, more functional motor control pattern.
Unfortunately, the motor control center doesn’t always make great choices when it’s creating a new compensation pattern, which is often the case regarding the core muscles. Motor control has become a big buzz word of recent, ever since Gray Cook started developing the joint by joint approach. The theory stipulates that joints are designed to be alternately either mobile or stable. Thus the ankle is mobile, the knee stable, hip mobile, core stable etc.
Cook states that the brain will always choose stability over mobility. For instance, if you lose stability in one joint, the brain will decrease mobility in joints around it to regain some stability. So those hamstrings that you keep foam rolling and stretching, but always seem to re-tighten? That’s probably because of your dysfunctional core. You can roll that hamstring all day long but if your brain is sensing instability it will tighten the hamstrings right back up.
Cook designed the Selective Functional Movement Assessment (SFMA) as a way of determining if a dysfunction was motor control dysfunction or a joint/tissue mobility dysfunction. He then developed ways to reprogram motor control through relearning how to move, which is what many physical therapists use today.
The core, however, is a different beast when it comes to compensation patterns, which is why I believe so many high functioning athletes have a dysfunctional core despite being great at what they do and having access to some wonderful therapists. Athletes are pro compensators. They do amazing things every day in a dysfunctional state, but are left open to injury and are not tapping into the full potential of their body when their core is functioning incorrectly.
I use Sensory Motor Repatterning (SMR) therapy to improve the performance of uninjured athletes and to fix chronic issues on those who are. My first session is always about getting the core to fire optimally. It doesn’t matter if you come to me with cramping calves or a tingling elbow, if your core isn’t functioning correctly, everything else is compromised. Rarely does someone leave after the first session without this corrected and it’s actually quite simple. I determine the compensation pattern related to the core and from there I work backwards until the more functional motor control pattern has been relearned. It’s like writing a new line of software code in the motor control center of the brain, once it’s learned…. it’s learned.
Is your core functioning correctly at a neural level?