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Core stability training

Core stability training. Functional stability training. Core stabilization.

These are all buzz words in the fitness world right now.

Certainly having a stable core is important. In this article I’ll go over what core stability means, why it’s important, and how to best train it.

Note: This article doesn’t provide any exercise recommendations to strengthen your core. If you want the actual core strengthening exercises checkout this article.


What is “core stability training”?

•Stabilization exercise→An activity that grooves stable motor patterns, while minimizing excessive loading on the spine.

•Core stability→Core stability is the ability to maintain a certain position against forces of gravity or external load.

From these two definitions we can define core stability training as activity that minimally loads the spine, while increasing our ability to resist movement in the trunk. 


Muscles of the core

If you don’t care about anatomy terms then the core = the muscles around your stomach, sides, and back. Now skip to the next section.

If you do care about anatomy terms than please keep reading this section.

Core musculature

• Rectus abdominis

• Transverse abdominis

• Internal/External obliques 

• Quadratus lumborum

• Spinal erectors

• Multifidus

• To an extent- the glutes, hamstrings, and hip rotator groups

Core-muscles ←Anterior (front of the body)

back_m01←Posterior (back of the body)


The role of our core 

Twenty to thirty years ago we thought the role of the core was to assist with movement, namely trunk flexion (situps).

However, this notation has been proven false.

The role of our core is actually to prevent movement in the spine, through isometric support (ability to generate stability and stiffness). The core is designed to limit trunk rotation during movement. The core is also the vital link between our lower and upper body as well as the source of all power generation.


But, why is core stability training even important in the first place?

Core stability training is important for a host of reasons.

•Increases the health and function of the core

•Increases our ability to create stiffness

•Creates a balanced body by evenly strengthening the stabilizers of the spine

•A body in balance reduces the risk of injury and decreases low back pain. This is accomplished via lower compression force on the spine and through activation of the muscles that keep us in proper body alignment during movement

Let me illustrate the function of our core with a quick analogy.


A quick analogy of the core

Let’s think of the core musculature as the rigging on of an old school pirate ship.

core muscles as a ship

(photo credit: http://highperformancerowing.net/journal/2011/7/25/core-stability-the-inner-unit.html)

how-to-draw-boats-24←The long outer red lines represent the large outer core musculature. The inner, close together red lines, represent the inner core stabilizers. Both work together to hold up the mast (our spine). 

The mast represents our spine (vertebra).

The large outer guy wires represent our large outer core musculature, the rectus abdominis (front) and the erector spinae (back).

The smaller stabilizing guy wires represent the small, deep stabilizers of the spine, namely the multifidus, transverse abdominis, and the internal/ external obliques.

The large guy wires certainly support the mast of the ship ( spine), but would undoubtedly fail without the constant support of the smaller guy wires.

In fitness it is quite easy to train the large outer guy wires. The goal with core stability training is essentially to train the smaller inner guy wires to create stiffness and resist movement when the large outer guy wires are experiencing a heavy load/external force. The ability to create stiffness and stability in the joints is what allows for an effective and safe transfer of force.

Injuries occur when the large guy wires come under load/force, but the smaller guy wires have uneven tensile strength (some parts are stronger than others). This is the equivalent of having one portion of the ships inner guy wires tight, having one portion lose, and hoping they keep the mast stable when a huge gust of wind hits the ship.


What are the best core stabilizing muscles?

Ok, I got it. The ship analogy makes a lot of sense. So what are the best muscles to train for core stability?

Well, none.

There is no “single best” core stabilizing muscle. They are all important.

Here’s why.

Stability requirements change as the task changes. External load, change of direction, power generation, and a sudden slip all require stability in slightly different ways. The best way to train stability is through a range of exercises and movements.


Categories of core stability training

•Anti-extension→ Training to resist excessive extension (arching of the back) of the spine.

anti extension

•Anti-lateral flexion→Training to resist excessive side to to side movement.

anti lateral flexion

•Anti-rotation→Training to resist directional changes/ rotary force (think twisting).

anti rotation

Like I previously mentioned, I’ve written about exercises to train each core category. If you are interested in exercises to train your core, checkout this article


Final thoughts

Core stability training is important to teach the body how to generate stability and stiffness. The core is designed to resist movement. Core stability training teaches us how to do that, leading to a decrease in injuries and improved overall quality of life. I think the saying goes “happy core, happy life”. Something like that.

Anyway, thanks for reading!

Post your favorite core stability exercises in the comments below.


Inspiration for this article

• Ultimate Back Fitness and Performance, 4th edition by: Dr. Stuart McGill

• Low Back Disorders, second edition by: Dr. Stuart McGill

• New Functional Training For Sports by: Michael Boyle

• T-nation article “Core Training That Isn’t Stupid”

• High Performance Rowing Journal- Core Stability

• The Effect of Long Term Isometric Training on Core/ Torso Stiffness, research study by: Dr. Stuart McGill and Dr. Benjamin Lee


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