Are you misinterpreting core stability?

I received the article below from Fitness Australia, and thought I would share it as it gets people thinking about what they consider ‘core stability’ is.  After you’ve read the article, come back and consider this: Joseph Pilates said If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.

The smartest way to avoid injury and improve performance is to train the body to engage the inner core and breathe before you move. The heavier you squat or deadlift, the more muscle activity you will need to recruit to maintain a neutral spine and prevent unnecessary movement.

One of the problems in the health and fitness industry is the misinterpretation of this “core stability”. It is one of the biggest buzzwords in the health and fitness domain, and there are various interpretations of what core stability incorporates.

In 2006, Kibler defined core stability as “the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities.”

The problem with this definition is that it is often taken to mean that rigidity of the trunk equals stability. It implies that if we train muscles harder to create stiffness around the spine it will mean we have good core stability. This is a myth.

True core stability is dependent on a complex interplay between movement and stiffness. It is not about doing hundreds of sit ups, getting a six-pack or being able to hold a plank position for three minutes – although these do have their purposes. For instance, core stability for ballet dancers is fine coordination of postural and outer muscles to allow controlled mobility of the pelvis and spine with movement, rather than bracing in one spot.

Defining stability
Optimal stability is achieved when we are able to move into different positions and postures with the spine while retaining control. This means using the ideal amount of muscle activity for the task.

Optimal stability is efficient. For instance, when we land during a run, we only need a 10 per cent gluteus medius contraction to prevent unwanted pelvis movement and remain stable. The sub-maximal contraction of these postural muscles allows us to run for long distances without fatiguing. Any more than this and the muscle fatigues, and our pelvic stability is compromised.

Stability not rigidity
Another common misconception suggests that strength improves stability. Just doing planks, crunches, double leg lowers, oblique twists and back extensions will help keep you straight and stiff. However, rigidity does not equal stability.

A problem we often see within our physio clinic is that clients try to improve their core stability by solely training the outer muscles of the trunk using exercises such as those mentioned above. Clients are often not conditioned for low load stability and over-recruit the global muscles to perform these tasks. Global muscles are not designed to continuously contract for long periods of time. They become fatigued, and this is when injuries can occur.
On the other hand, some physiotherapists do the opposite. They use various techniques to “down train” the outer trunk muscles, focusing solely on retraining the deep postural muscles of the trunk.

This does a good job at training the inner core but rarely builds muscle strength on top of this foundation. Clients then return to the gym and perform a heavy squat or deadlift and often end up back in the clinic.

There needs to be co-ordinated integration so that clients are taught to recruit the correct muscles in the right order to stabilise the spine, move with optimal efficiency and prevent injuries.

Written by Jenny Doyle, physiotherapist, sports scientist & clinical Pilates instructor – Active Anatomy

This entry was posted in News. Bookmark the permalink.