Chōsen’s Strength and Conditioning Coach, Taylor Rank, explains the style of functional exercise that aims to increase your overall fitness and reduce your risk of injury.
You have likely heard the term ‘activate your core’. It’s a common phrase that refers to an important principle of functional fitness – ‘core to extremity’.
Core: often referred to as the ‘midline’ is the bridge that connects our upper body to our lower body. Anatomically I consider this to be the glutes, hips, and torso.
Extremity(s): pieces/segments that are distanced or furthest from a center mass or body.
Core to Extremity: the origin of movement that utilizes the largest muscle group possible and progresses onwards/outwards to the smaller muscle(s) or groupings of muscles.
Put simply, the term core to extremity means starting any exercise movement by fully engaging the muscles in your core – like your glutes, hips and abdominal muscles – before then progressing outward and using the muscles further from the center of your body (AKA your extremities).
It’s a simple notion, but, in the world of functional fitness, its importance cannot be overstated.
That’s because functional fitness is all about effectiveness and efficiency; when we do a deadlift or a clean and jerk, for example, we are trying to effectively and efficiently move a heavy load. Initiating a movement starting with the core, which is our largest muscle group, is far more effective and efficient because it allows our body to express its fullest strength and power by utilizing all muscle groups to their fullest potential.
To illustrate this, let’s look at the movement sequence involved in a power snatch, the action of squatting and then lifting a barbell from the ground to overhead. An athlete performing a power snatch should start by pulling the bar from the ground using their legs and hips, while at the same time using their torso to stabilize. Only once the athlete has utilized the full range of motion of their core muscles and ‘reached extension’ (where the ankles, knees and hips are all in alignment) should they then use the extremity muscles in their arms and shoulders to finish the movement by pulling and catching the bar overhead.
This sequential engagement of core and then extremity muscles creates optimal power output and efficiency. If the athlete were to break this sequential progression – for example, by pulling with the arms before reaching extension – they would work harder than necessary to lift the weight. We in the fitness industry call this a ‘core to extremity violation’.
But the principle of core to extremity is important for another vital reason; it ensures that we are actually working our core muscles and building core strength. Core strength is, of course, very important for optimal physical performance.
If the human body is a house, the core is like the foundation. If the foundation isn’t strong and stable, the house sitting atop it will crumble or collapse at some point. If your core isn’t strong and stable, it really doesn’t matter how strong your arms or legs are because, when you lift a load, your extremities won’t be supported by your mid-line.
And this isn’t just the case with lifting weights. If you’re a runner, better core strength will help your speed by better translating the power generated in your legs into propelling your entire body forward, and raise your endurance by improving form and posture.
Good core strength also reduces the risk of injury across all exercise and activities by improving balance and stability.
So, whether you’re looking to workout more efficiently, enhance your strength and fitness, or simply improve your overall quality of life, the core to extremity principle should be at ‘the core’ of each exercise movement you do.
Taylor Rank is an international Strength and Conditioning coach and one of the Chōsen experts who helps design each transformational retreat week. He is leading Chōsen’s fitness and nutrition program The Mindful Athlete from 17-23 June.