Core Stability: What’s All The Fuss About?

Thursday, February 16, 2017. Author Paul Rose

What is core stability?

What is core stability?

When talking about the ‘core’, we are not just referring to the well-known visible muscles such as the rectus abdominis and obliques, but rather the entire torso and pelvic region of the body. For this reason, we will refer to this area as the trunk.

“Stability” is the ability of the musculoskeletal system to deal with sudden disruptions from its neutral position.

Therefore, ‘core stability’ (or more appropriately termed ‘trunk stability’) refers to how capable the body is to deal with a deviation from the neutral asymmetric position of the torso. Such instances would include a change in body position, or external forces acting upon the body such as a push on the shoulder or a pull on the arm.

The importance of trunk stability

As a major connection link between the spinal column, central nervous system and the lower and upper extremities; the trunk is of great importance to assist in performing exercises and movements safely and efficiently.  This is especially true in agility-based movements, and when changing direction. Having proper trunk stability leads to better performance.

As one of the pioneers in strength and conditioning training Mel Siff stated, “To produce maximal force in a movement, one must consider anatomical stability and ensure that at crucial moments posture enables the muscles to develop maximal external force”.

The result of poor stability

The inability to stabilise one's trunk can result in discernable flexion or rotation of the spine that can put a lot of excessive force on your lumbar region. As there is no joint in your lumbar spine and only fragile discs, you are running the risk of herniating or ‘slipping’ a disc during excessive loading without a favourable neutral spine position.

Multiple studies have shown that poor trunk motor control leads to increased load on at risk joint structures such as the knee, shoulder and elbows, which in turn increases the risk of injury occurrence (Chaudhari 2011, 2014, Hewett et al 2009, Zazulak, 2007).

Neutral trunk stance

When we are in a completely neutral lumbar and pelvic stance with our head poised correctly on our shoulders, the force exerted on us by gravity equates to zero (Newtons First Law of Motion).  

This position can be maintained by our body’s passive support structures of the spinal column and its ligaments, we require almost no force from our muscles to stay in this position. This makes it the most energy-saving and favorable body position.

Your core muscles work like a spring...

If something disrupts our neutral stance, for example if we were to lean to one side, our trunk muscles help stabilise the body’s position and prevent us from toppling over.

Our trunk muscles respond much like a spring system or slinky if you will – enabling the trunk to return to it’s original neutral state.

In a sports setting, for example, the body is continuously being put into many unstable positions such as shrugging off a tackle in rugby or taking a drop-step to avoid an opponent in basketball.

The better the trunks ‘spring system’ is at returning itself into a stabilised position, the greater one’s performance and the lesser the risk of injury.

Neural trunk control

Although all muscles are controlled by the nervous system, neural control of the local and global muscles involved in trunk stability is much more important than having big ‘show’ muscles that are dysfunctional. Neural control will improve your ability to counteract any unwanted movement from the bodies centre.

So instead of adding a lot of weight to a sit-up ,it is much more beneficial to do exercises such as the bird-dog or dead bug to improve your trunk stability.

Finding dysfunction

One of my favourite ways to gather feedback from a client’s ability to show body awareness is to ‘bring it down to the floor’. Using exercises that involve being in a semi-supine (lying on your back with knees bent) position, forces the client to connect with the trunks musculature, by creating a neutral spine, as the lower back is consciously pressed to the floor.

The benefit of this procedure is that it helps us show whether we can efficiently move our limbs independently from our trunk. If you learn to address these dysfunctions, more efficient movement patterns can be created and one can move more freely. Then finding the connections and developing the skills enables us to perform exercises more safely and efficiently.

Advice for trunk stability during exercise

Avoid

Shortening the spine (folding/collapsing the body) and tightening of the neck and shoulders during exercise. This comes down to a lack of proprioception or ‘body awareness’.

The ball and socket joints of the shoulder and hips are intended to allow the arms and legs to function independently of the trunk. This means we should be able to lift and run without having to shorten or round the spine.

Apply

Lifting weights should be done with the head, spine and pelvis in such a way as to maintain as close as possible to a neutral spinal disposition, with its three natural curvatures.  

Tip

Use the eyes as a tool to help maintain neutral spine position, look directly ahead at all times in the lift and fixed on an object in the distance.

One of the qualities of elite long distance runners is that their head and back alignment remains still and consistent, whilst the arms and legs move forwards and backwards with ease and efficiency

Trunk stability exercise: the deadbug

Lie on you back with your arms extended to the ceiling and both legs lifted with your knees bent 90 degrees, toes pulled back toward your shins. Keeping your back flat and shoulder blades,pressed against the mat.

Lower one arm straight back towards the floor above your head and simultaneously extending the opposite leg out and down until your heel is just above the floor. Return the arm and leg to start position, repeat with other leg and arm. This exercise is great for learning how to stabilise the trunk while moving the limbs independently.

 

Do it right: This may be very difficult at first, so keep the movement slow to ensure that you decrease any pelvic rotation.


Avoid: Tilting your pelvis during the movement, do not allow your back to move into an arched position.

So, should you care about trunk stability?

Most definitely!

Don't just assume that after a session spent stabilising and strengthening one's core, there is no longer any need to pay attention to your trunks position. This is a BIG mistake!

It is vital that we recognise the need for understanding efficient posture and alignment. It is not just about how you carry yourself during workouts but in all movements that you experience every day!

If you enjoyed this article, please read my other how-to training blogs:

The right way to warm up

Learn how to lunge

Build explosive power with kettlebell swings

Have you ever tried a goblet squat?

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