Core Stability 101
Posted on 21st November 2022 at 16:25
I did a quick Google search today to find a definition for core stability. It's a phrase that's banded around a lot in the exercise world and I often have to describe exactly what it means to clients. As ever with a Google search the answers that come up are quite wide-ranging! One that came up quite quickly and actually for me is pretty accurate states that:
“Core stability can be defined as the capacity of the lumbar-pelvic-hip muscle complex to control lower trunk movement and maintain stability of the vertebral column after skeletal perturbation.” (sciencedirect.com)
To save you googling it perturbation means movement! There are many other definitions and for me the way I describe it to clients is it cool stability is essentially about connecting the large muscles and bones of the pelvis and the lower legs with the large rib cage muscles and the weight of the head .
From the skeleton's from a skeletal point of view thinking only of bones, the spine is a very flimsy little flag pole which is trying to hold up and stabilise the weight of the rib cage and the head. It is obviously not well designed for that fact that job and therefore the muscles of the core are very important.
Muscles involved in core stability fall into two categories the inner unit and the outer unit. Like all joints in the body the inner unit of muscles is responsible for stabilisation and for maintaining the joint in its ideal position. The outer unit is primarily used for bigger movements.
Outer unit core stability exercises focus very much on exercises like sit ups, planks, twisting movements, side crunches and perhaps even back extensions. However all of these exercises are very ineffective in stabilising the precious vertebra of the spine.
It is the job of the inner unit muscles to create this stability. The muscles of the inner unit include:
• Pelvic floor.
• Transversus abdominis.
• Internal Abdominal Obliques.
• Some literature also includes the deep fibres of the psoas and the deep hip rotators as part of the inner core although I don’t subscribe to this view.
Another example I give to help clients understand core stability is to imagine that your spine is like a set of teacups stacked one on top of the other. The outer unit of muscles can only compress the top vertebra down towards the bottom vertebra as if one has one hand at the top and one hand at the bottom of the stack and squeezes them together. This is due to the anatomy of these muscles as they attach from the rib cage to the pelvis. This model can create a reasonable amount of stability assuming all the teacups are correctly aligned. But what happens if one of those teacups is not aligned? A mis-aligned teacup could represent poor posture, a disc bulge, a slipped vertebra or any other spinal pathology.
In this description the inner unit of muscles essentially wraps a hand around each teacup and creates stability from one teacup to the one immediately above it. That way we can accommodate a misaligned disc a bulging vertebra poor posture or any other issue within the lumbar spine. This is the reason that inner unit activation strength and coordination is vital to true core stability.
Training the inner unit in my experience requires a back-to-basics approach. We must first isolate the muscles involved making sure that they all work, we must then strengthen them slightly and then start to integrate them with one another before finally using them to create stability against movement of other parts of the body. A true isolation to integration approach to conditioning.
This is a process I have done countless times over the last 20 years and has been proven to work extremely well when done properly and thoroughly. The exercise shown below is the is the most basic building block upon which this process is built. It is called a transverse abdominus activation.
In the video you can see me lying down on my back with my fingers on my tummy (just inside the boy part on the front of my pelvis) and I am just gently drawing my tummy button into my spine. Underneath my fingers I will feel the transverse abdominis gently pushing up into my fingers and the purpose of the exercise is to simply create conscious control on the transverse abdominis.
Once we have conscious control of the transverse abdominus we are then able to train it as we require. It is difficult to give too much information in a blog article or even a video because perfect activation of this muscle is absolutely essential to building the correct patterns. Unfortunately, it is only possible to ascertain if recruitment is correct by being with the person.
However, what I can say is the common mistakes people make with this exercise are breathing in as they gently draw their tummy button into their spine, tilting my pelvis and flattening the back onto the floor or quite simply any other movement in the body. This is an isolated activation and so the only movement should be of the lower abdomen.
Please feel free to have a go and see what you can feel and if you do have any questions I would be happy to answer them via e-mail at the address below.
Tagged as: Back Pain, Back Rehab Exercises, Chek, Education, Exercise, Holistic Health, Long Term Back Pain, Rehabilitation
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