ESPN/Football Poppycock

I was listening to the “Mike and Mike” show on ESPN radio this morning and heard something that made my ears bleed. Jenn Brown was giving her report on the Thursday night match-up between #16 Florida State and N.C. State. FSU quarterback Christian Ponder has had some issues with his elbow yet has practiced this week. He told reporters that his injury was a “blessing in disguise” and is “starting to use my core more” when throwing (1). He fucking said “core”.

The term “core” has been demonized and written about plenty of times, and I won’t add too much to it here. It just sounds so…puny (I was going to write a similar word with different consonants, but you get the idea). Saying the word conjures up images of “personal trainers” having their clients do silly shit around the gym to make them sweaty and sometimes sore. More importantly, I don’t like “core” because the way it is said and perceived is lacking from an anatomical standpoint. Proponents of the term would cite the stability needed in the abdominals and back muscles to transfer force and move the body. That definition neglects the hips, which is the area of the body that is most important for acceleration (in the physics sense; in this case referring to a person’s change in velocity). We already know that barbell training is the best way to strengthen the hips (and subsequently the “core”), but I’m more concerned with the seeming misunderstanding of what is important for movement and acceleration.

In QB Ponder’s defense, he does mention his hips in improving his mechanics. What he’s saying is, “The elbow injury has forced me to use my hips in my throwing motion properly, and thus improves my ability to throw the football. Previously I wasn’t using my hips and primarily used my arm, and this is what caused the injury.” As referenced above, his actual first sentence was, “I’m starting to use my core more, which is something I got away from this year.” I don’t expect anybody to care what the term “core” does or doesn’t mean, but I have a problem with how it is perceived. It’s perceived to be abdominal related, and that means this is going to be the primary method of strengthening or improving the area:

Google image 'core' and this is the first fitness related image

Exercises like the squat, press, and deadlift not only strengthen the hips, but also the muscles that attach to the hips from the anterior and posterior. A quarterback will benefit from utilizing hip strength in a throwing motion — that’s why “setting the feet” is so important to football; it allows the quarterback to properly apply force to the ground to move and rotate his legs, hips, torso, and then arm to have a solid throw. This is also why it’s a horrible idea for a quarterback to roll right and throw to the left — there’s not power behind his throw (and the resulting vector the football makes as it travels at an angle across the field allows the defense to react and move towards the ball, but that’s a different point entirely).

You can look at any athletic movement and see how it’s completely dependent on the hips. Look at the picture below of a juke. This juke is quite exaggerated, yet it shows that in order to move to the right, the player has to apply force to the left. When an athlete moves fast, they only have one foot on the ground, so that one foot has to not only apply enough force to move the entire body in the desired direction, but often having to overcome the body’s own momentum (since they are changing directions) as well as any other exterior forces (in this case, other players — gravity is implied while we’re on Earth). In this particular picture, this ball carrier is probably* in the midst of moving left. A bland analysis would say he’s abducting his hip, but anyone who’s played a sport knows that’s stupid — stand up straight and move your left leg out away from your mid-line while keeping you knee straight. Is this how you juke? No. There is plantar flexion (ankle), knee flexion, and hip extension occurring to move laterally and forward. All of those muscles are worked through a full range of motion (with the exception of the plantar flexion muscles, but stay on track here) during a back squat. There’s a lot going on in a juke, but the point is that the abs are not the core of the movement.

A standard ops juke.

It’s interesting to analyze movement, but you don’t have to focus on it while you watch football this weekend. Just know that the foundation for athletic movement comes from strengthening the major joints through a full range of motion, and this is best achieved through barbell training. Once there is a foundation of strength** you apply that strength into the movements and activities associated with a sport. That last part is the “conditioning” part of “strength and conditioning”. I just wish silly personal training rhetoric would stay out of it.

*I say probably because technically we don’t know what’s going on the photo. He could be spinning, or in a stutter step to move to the left, or spinning around after making a catch. Let’s just assume he’s juking to his right.
**Admittedly, the “foundation of strength” is arbitrary. I’d say it’s relative to age and skill level, but that is also another discussion.

28 thoughts on “ESPN/Football Poppycock

  1. I think youre turned around on the logic here-

    Hips are great, but they’re still an outgrowth of the spine, along anchoring to the spine…..And a functional abdominal wall creates the stability. I hate the term ‘core’ just as much as anyone, but movement emanates from the center of the body, THEN goes through the hips…..

    The deep abdominal muscles always fire first…..then allow the hips to do their part. Why would that definition neglect the hips?


    Wait, what? You’re going to have to explain the reasoning here.

    I guess you’ve got a problem with how I generalized the term. Go ask anybody, including people who don’t exercise, what core means. The majority of that percentage will say abs, and that’s the point.


  2. I suggest you stop paying attention to what people say on ESPN. I did and feel much better for it.

    This is a very good point. ESPN is getting to be as bad as network news. Not as bad, but getting there. Depends on the show or segment. I really only care to watch it for highlights. The investigative reporting pisses me off. Like that dorky mustache guy who was in Brett Favre’s truck window when he wasn’t at training camp. I hate that guy.


  3. My personal favorite is the trainer at my gym who tells his clients they will do certain exercises to target different parts of their abs. And then talks about how pilates has his mid-abs sore.

  4. I’m pretty sure the Cowboys switched to core stability ball training this year with granola and yogurt after Saturday Zumba class.

    Does anyone know what kind of training various football teams do? I think I asked this before and someone said that they all do their own thing based on what their strength coach does. I’m just wondering if there is any correlation between certain regimens and winning percentage.

    I don’t know a lot about it, but I doubt that there is a high variation in programs. The coaches usually get a job initially because they know someone, and if that’s the case then their philosophy will, at the very least, be similar to their mentors or predecessors. There may be tendencies to use certain things, but for the most part I would assume they are similar.


  5. somewhat off topic, but Justin you should do a piece about Movember.

    Basically real men growing a mustache for the month of November to increase awareness for men’s health.

    If for no other reason, what goes better with 70’s Big than mustaches?

    I’ve always heard of “No Shave November”. What the hell does the word “Movember” have anything to do with men or health?


  6. ^+1

    When I was in college all my buddies and I did March Mustache Madness. The point was to raise awareness of the fact that some of the guys we thought were real men among us could not grow mustaches.

    In November I proposed November Neckbeard Nuisance. I was the only participant.

    Fighter pilots do Mustache March. I wonder if your ‘challenge’ was a derivative of that.


  7. I was a fan of Mike Golic until he started slimming down. Mike Greenburg is the living definition of “90’s small.”

    On another side note: Is there a good place to get 70’s big around the Nova/DC area? I was turned away from a certain establishment reeking of 90’s small because I had no interest of paying for “classes…”

    You can’t blame Golic for not wanting to be fat anymore though. He’s still a relatively big guy.


  8. @ Awainer1: why don’t you mac-attack on the ginger in the gym with a ‘very nice core’…come on now you gotta show her who the real ‘big dawg’ is.

  9. What’s your opinion on that ‘plank’ exercise? that woman doing it in that pic except she is doing a variant using a sex swing.

    I see lots of guys and girls doing it in the gym.

    If i am honest, i just use it as a means to check girls out.

    I don’t think it’s worth much. However, I’ve effectively used side planks and torso rotations for rehabbing my back. It was incredibly helpful.


  10. As a “Personal Trainer” by day and a S&C Coach for a D III school by night and weekend, I see a lot of silly BS in the name of training/activating/masturbating the “core.” It’s the definition of weak sauce.

    Problem is, it trickles down to the athletes, too. I’ve had some of the women ask for essentially a “cardio sculpt” class during our S&C Sessions because they “feel the burn” more than the Goblet Squats, DB Thrusters, sprints etc…that I make them do (they do not even have a barbell or squat rack; don’t even get me started…). So while I’m busy trying to get them strong and conditioned for their sport with high intensity and appropriate work:rest ratios, they want 3lb bicep curls in between their 3lb lateral raises and tricep kickbacks. I am, sadly, not kidding.

    It’s a fight everywhere, but we will slowly win it!

  11. I like the term “trunk strength” from Powerlifting USA May 2010, Vol. 33, No. 7. It is a really good article about how “core” should really be “trunk” strength. Super heavyweights have the strongest abs and can lift a weight overhead the would snap a 90’s small 6 pack in half.

    @ Maslow and smithb9

    Why should mustaches only be for causes? I’ve been sporting a mustache since the last 70s Big contest.

  12. I play amateur football and I hear this shit all the time from my team mates. Ive stopped to get into discussions with them because its just a waste of time.

    One of the WR’s, who is also a personal trainer at a Globo, gave out advice to the other WR’s that light Db bench presses on a swiss ball was the best if one wanted to strengthen the ‘core’ and be better at blocking on run plays!

    How bout getting your bench and squat up to some decent numbers instead.

    Does it ever occur to them, that I, probably the only one on the team who does serious weight training, is the hardest hitter and most badass player on the team???

    Ok, sorry for the rant and self promo. But seriously… Fuck core…

  13. I think what most broscientists fail to realize is that doing stuff like overhead presses, squats, and deadlifts are working the abs pretty good.

    Granted, I think that some ab-work is good as a supplemental exercise done after barbell lifts, and to balance the work done to the posterior chain (the chinese WL team has some term for the abs, can’t remember it off-hand but it was basically the “front back”, or anterior chain I suppose).

    I tried the plank last night after my workout and was able to do 3 sets of 60seconds somewhat easily. I think its a decent exercise though considering your abs or “anterior chain” generally work isometrically, and the plank trains them thusly.

  14. @High Voltage and @Maslow,

    Fitness First in Tyson’s is pretty reasonable. They just hired a guy who used to be strength coach for the Toronto Blue Jays who definitely knows his stuff and is doing his best to share it with everyone.

    Currently they have two squat racks and one power cage that are usually empty, are friendly to chalk and deadlifts, have a prowler, etc. Word is they’re knocking down one of the walls to expand and add multiple platforms and bumper plates sometime in the near future.

  15. @ High Voltage

    Hey man not sure exactly where you are but when I lived in DC I went to a gym called Balance Gym in Dupont. They have a couple locations, just google them to find out. There are a lot of Crossfitters around but everyone is serious and there are a lot of Oly and Powerlifters also. They have a platform and at least 5 squat racks.

  16. @ Justin–never heard of the figher pilot thing. Sounds cool though. Could be where my friend got the idea from.

    @JMOvechkin/Volgage/Dcurrin–I checked out Balance Gym. Looks like a great facility and I really liked that they offer group boxing classes. I would go there if I lived up there. The guy I talked to there is a rugby player and said he can squat 450. I just go to the gym most convienent to me, either Gold’s Capitol Hill or Gold’s South Arlington. Capitol Hill has three squat racks and I almost never have to wait. Most people avoid heavy weights like they’re made of saturated fat, and love being 90s small. Lots of dudes attend Dody Pump (wtf). Don’t tell anyone about this though. I enjoy not waiting to lift. Gold’s Van Ness is more spacious and has two squat racks. Gold’s Rockville only has one squat rack. Don’t go to Gold’s Greenbelt. I used to go to Fitness First Gaithersburg; they only have one squat rack and it’s too crowded to do deadlifts. I’m interested in finding a nearby gym with bumper plates and all that, but so far location convenience has trumped all other considerations until I can squat twice my bodyweight.

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