Integrating Core Stabilization into Your Workouts
Stabilization is a hot topic in the fitness industry over the past few years. But what is stabilization? Stabilization can be defined as the body's muscular systems ability to support (stabilize) the body during movement.
For most fitness enthusiasts, core training is a foreign topic. Exercises designed to build strength in the chest, back, shoulders, legs and arms are typically chosen over exercises designed to improve the strength of the core. The "core" is defined as the muscles surrounding the cervical (neck), thoracic (chest), lumbar (low back), pelvic, and hip area. The core is the foundation for all movement patterns to occur. A strong efficient core is necessary for proper movement to occur. Allowing other muscles to become strong before the core can lead to injury at some point in your body. For example, most people have tight hip flexors, quadriceps, and psoas. When these muscles are tight they cause the stabilizing muscles of the core (transverse abdominals, multifidi, and glutes) to become lengthened and therefore weak. When muscles become weak, they cannot work efficiently and the tight muscles take over their function.
Picking an object up off the floor is a great example of how your core "braces" the body to prepare for the lift. As you lift the object off the floor, your core stabilizes the body and allows efficient movement to occur to transmit force through the lumbar spine and out through the body. If your core is not strong enough and proper postural positioning is off, the body cannot properly handle the weight of the object and injury can occur. For example, if the back is rounded through the shoulders as you pick up a box of books, the center of gravity shifted forward and away from the body putting enormous strain the lumbar discs. Repeated stress on the lumbar disc will lead to a serious back injury at some point.
Mastering of basic exercises designed to recruit the deep abdominal stabilizers is a must for proper progression to occur. The first level is to begin to re-teach the muscles deep in the abdominal wall to fire properly. Teaching a client to "brace" their abdominal wall is the key to building proper stabilizing within the lumbo-pelvic hip region. These exercises are done on a stable environment (floor). Exercises in the first level typically are held for a period of time to allow the deep stabilizing muscles to improve their functional capacity.
Once the basic concept of abdominal bracing is mastered after a couple of days, the next level can be obtained through challenging the stabilizing muscles through movement of the spine or the arms and legs in a semi-stable environment. Stability balls are commonly used and are a great way to build core stability. Other ways to increase the intensity is to raise a limb off the ground to force the body to hold a posturally correct position with good core stabilization.
As core stabilization improves challenging the body becomes a function of being creative and safe. Try a multi-joint exercise in different directions to create better core stabilization. For example, lunge to the front, back, and to the sides combined with an overhead press requires a great deal of core stabilization.
Building a strong core is more than just endless crunches and leg raises. Fitness professionals have the knowledge to help you build a strong core effectively and safely. By being creative, you can build a strong core in no time, just in time for spring break.
Dave Radin, BS, CSCS, NASM-CPT. Dave Radin has been working with individuals for over 12 years helping them reach their health and fitness goals, whether weight loss, general fitness, or sport specific. He has authored articles on various fitness topics. He lives in the Charlotte area with his wife, Randi, and his son, Matthew.
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