Why is core stability important?
Without getting into too much detail about the scientific names of each muscle and where they connect I’ll do my best to keep it simple. The core is comprised of multiple muscles that connect the hips, spine, and ribcage. The job of the core muscles is to make sure the hips, spine, and ribcage remain stable. Acting mostly as a stabilizer it can also aid in helping transfer energy from the lower body to the upper body. Stability in the hips and spine must be maintained to safely train heavy lifts and perform dynamic/explosive movements. When the core muscles are unable to hold the hips and spine in place it opens up room for injuries. This also closes off the ability to apply force efficiently when the legs and upper are used at the same time i.e. transfer energy from the legs to the back and shoulders when picking something up, pressing weight overheard, or throwing a ball. If the core is weak the spine will round, bend, or rotate which hinders force production between the upper and lower body.
What exercises will help you improve core stability?
Exercises that require an isometric contraction (no movement of the joints) of the core muscles are the best for core stability. When stability is the goal we need to attack the core from all angles. These different exercises are described, in reference to the spine, as anti-extension, anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion, and rotation.
This term describes the action of your spine not hyperextending or bowing backwards into a “banana” shape. A great exercise to train anit-extension is the forearm plank/weighted forearm plank. This exercise teaches the front core muscles to statically hold the hips and ribcage in a stable position so the spine does not hyperextend. The goal is to hold this exercise for 60-90 seconds for 3 or more sets. As this becomes easier you want to add weight on your back to train the core to handle heavier loads.
These exercises help strengthen the low back muscles that connect to the hips as well as the deep abdominal muscles used to rotate the trunk. When these muscles are trained the body can resist any minor twisting of the hips and spine. A popular and effective way to train this is the pallof press. You can use a resistance band or a cable machine to perform this exercise. The goal here is to resist the rotation of your trunk as you reach away from your body. A good place to start is 3 sets of 8-10 reps. As this exercise becomes easier you can begin to add more tension with a thicker band or increased weight on a cable machine.
Lateral flexion refers to bending sideways. You can see how this could be problematic when performing something like a back squat. The obliques, and other core muscles, need to be strong enough to resist side to side movement in the spine. To train the obliques I like to use two exercises: the side plank and the single arm farmers carry. The side plank is a great bodyweight exercise that trains the obliques and hips to contract simultaneously. A good place to start is 30 seconds per side for 3 sets and progress up to 45 seconds, or more for 3-4 sets.
The single arm farmers carry trains one oblique to contract while the hips are moving. When a weight is held on the right side of the body the left oblique must fire to keep you from bending over too far to the right. When starting this exercise perform 20-30 seconds per side and repeat for 3-5 sets. Making this exercise more challenging simply requires you to hold a heavier kettlebell or dumbbell.
Now these exercises go slightly against the goal of not moving the spine during exercise. But the spine has the ability to bend and twist during athletic movement and day to day activity i.e. swinging a bat or golf club. Rotation exercises help strengthen these movements for overall safety when the spine is required to bend or rotate. A beginner exercise to start with is the russian twist. Hold a light to moderate weight and perform 20-40 reps for 3-5 sets. When this exercise becomes too easy it’s time to progress to the landmine barbell rotations. This exercises uses all the muscles of the upper body, core, and hips to rotate the barbell. Start with just the barbell and add weight appropriately. Performing 8-10 per side for 3-5 sets should do the trick.
When you train the core from all angles you keep the hips and spine safer and can lift heavier weights. Train the core at least 1-2 times a week and add variety often. Pick 3-4 of these exercises and perform them as a circuit. For example you would do a 60 second weighted forearm plank, then 8 reps per side of the pallof press, finishing with single arm farmers carries for 30 seconds per side. Repeat this for 3 sets and change up the exercises to add variety.
If you found this useful or have questions email me and/or comment below!