Core Stability: What Is It, Really?

Core stability is a word that is misused enough that I felt motivated to discuss it in this month’s article.   Our “core” is the center of our body; everything between ribs and hips.  It houses the lumbar spine, our guts and is surrounded by latticed muscles in the front, back and sides.  “Stability” is the ability to resist movement and to support when demand is applied.  A bridge is stable when it supports cars from the top and resists wind from the sides.  Core stability is the ability to keep our low back safe.  Core stability is not being able to perform 100 crunches or flex and show off a rippling six pack.

The “abs” are sheet-like (flat and short) muscles, designed “from the factory” to provide this stability.  I see way too many people training the abs like they would a bicep.  Biceps are long and thick muscles, meant for movement; to bend the elbow and flex the shoulder.  So, when you think of exercises geared toward the core, train stability not movement. 

Think of your core as a coke can, with the diaphragm and pelvic floor as the top and bottom.  With the coke can full and unopened, try pressing straight down (as gravity and our upper bodies do) on the can and it is amazingly strong.  Next, try emptying and denting that can on one side and then press down again.  The can is very weak.  My point is, don’t dent your coke can (slouch your back) while training your core, bending or lifting.  If you get really good at being stable during demand your back will feel great and your abs will look great.  Bending your back with demand (situps, twists, flexion/extension machines) will make your back look bad on x-ray and your abs look great.

Learn to bend with your hips and knees while keeping your back stiff and straight.  I promise you that increasing enjoyable activities and a healthy diet will do way more for your “six pack abs” than hundreds of crunches.  If you still crave a safe “core” exercise, check out the Wall Abs video on this link to our rehab exercise page.  You and your back will love it!

In summary:
-Sit and stand with slightly better posture, nothing drastic.
-Keep your back straight when you bend or lift, even the lightest objects.
-Stay away from exercises that “move” your back; Stability not Mobility.

If you have any questions about back safety, core stability or if you’ve hurt your back working your abs the wrong way, call us!  We would love to help.

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