Core stability matters. A strong, stable core helps you perform compound strength-training exercises with better form and a lower risk of energy. A strong core also helps you generate speed and power when you do activities such as jumping, running, or sprinting. When you have strong core muscles and core muscles that are stable, you naturally have better posture.
What is core stability? It’s the ability to hold your trunk stable. With this definition, it’s easy to see why stability in the core is so vital. If your core muscles lack stability, your form will be off when you do exercises such as squats, deadlifts, and push-ups since a strong, stable core is the key to optimal form. The muscles that contribute most to core stability include the transversus abdominis (the deepest abdominal muscle, rectus abdominis. the internal obliques, external obliques, the multifidus, the longissimus thoracis, the erector spinae muscles, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor muscles. Ideally, all of these muscles should be strong and work together to stabilize your core.
How balanced is your core workout? There are three different approaches to working the core stabilizing muscles. Most people just work on one–static stability–by doing exercises such as planks. However, you’ll get more benefits if you add all three of these core stabilization training approaches to your core routine. Let’s look at each one.
Static Core Stabilization Exercises
Static stabilization is the most common way people train their core muscles. These movements are exercises where you hold your core stable as you try to resist gravity. A classic example is a basic front plank. When you do a basic plank, your elbows and toes are on the mat and you hold this position isometrically with your ab and glute muscles tight. Side planks are another static stabilization movement where you hold a posture against gravity without moving your arms and legs. A basic front plank and side plank is a good starting point for anyone who wants to develop greater core stability.
What about abdominal crunches? It’s a misconception that abdominal crunches are safe and effective for strengthening the core stabilizers. For one, they don’t activate the deeper core muscles as much as planks and spinal flexion places stress on the lumbar discs in your lower back. That’s why people with lower back pain should limit crunches or not do them at all. If you do abdominal crunches, don’t make them your only abdominal and core exercise. Focus more on planks and their variations. It’s especially important to limit crunches if you have a history of back pain.
Dynamic Core Stabilization Exercises
Once you can easily hold a basic plank for at least 30 seconds, it’s time to work on dynamic stabilization. Dynamic stabilization is the ability to hold your trunk stable when you lift or move your arms or move your legs. These exercises are especially important for strengthening your deep core muscles, the ones that stabilize your spine. In fact, dynamic lumbar stabilization exercises are even more effective than lumbar strengthening exercises for improving functionality in people with lower back pain.
One of the simplest ways to introduce dynamic stabilization movements into your routine is to do shoulder-touch planks. To do this exercise, get into a basic front plank position. Hold a plank using good form for 5 seconds or so to warm up. Now, lift one elbow off the ground and touch the opposite shoulder. Repeat with the other arm. Keep alternating back and forth. This variation introduces a slight rotational component into the planks that force your core muscles to adapt to the rotation. Don’t forget to keep good form and breathe naturally. Your hips should move as little as possible during the exercise.
The other type of exercise that involves dynamic stabilization are rollouts. You can do a classic abdominal roll out using an abdominal wheel or you can do exercises with your hands resting on a Swiss ball. The unstable surface of the ball will force your keep core muscles to work harder to stabilize your spine and keep it neutral.
Integrated Core Stabilization Movements
Integrated stabilization takes dynamic stabilization one step further by introducing movements that teach the core muscles to stay tight and stable during more complex movements, like the ones you do every day. In real life, we twist, turn, and bend in a variety of directions. Integrated stabilization exercises are advanced movements that train the core to keep the spine neutral when you’re moving around in a variety of planes of motion.
How do you add integrated stabilization work into your routine? Try doing a one-arm chest press using a dumbbell. Be sure to do it on both sides! To force your deep stabilizers to work even harder, do the one-arm chest press exercise with your head, neck, and shoulders resting on a Swiss ball. Focusing on one side at a time is the best way to target the deep stabilizers. Dumbbells allow you to do this while barbells do not. Weight training machines are even worse since you move in only one plane of motion with a machine. The stabilizing muscles don’t get the same degree of stimulation.
The Bottom Line
Basic planks and side planks are effective beginner exercises for strengthening the core, but for the most benefits, take it a step beyond and do dynamic and integrated stabilization movements too. Doing movements on a Swiss ball and doing unilateral exercises also helps keep your workout varied, and that’s important for continuing to make gains. It also keeps thing interesting and challenging!
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· PLOS One. “Not only static: Stabilization manoeuvres in dynamic exercises–A pilot study” August 8, 2018.
· Princeton University Athletic Medicine. “Lumbar/Core Strength and Stability Exercises”
· Stack.com. “Stabilizer Muscles: What They Are and Why They’re So Important”
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