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In recent years core stability training has increased within all fields of fitness. Focus on strengthening core muscles has been incorporated into healthy athletes, elderly adults, sedentary adults, and average healthy adults’ exercise programs. Although focus on core stability, which helps with posture and balance, is a significant factor which should be included in exercise programs, the manner in which it is included is not true to the healthy, uninjured, clientele.

Core stability training, also known as instability training, was first introduced to injured athletes to facilitate in their recovery, but now the same principles, and some exercises, are being introduced to healthy populations. Resistance training exercises performed on an unstable base were first researched for ankle, knee and lower back injuries and injury prevention. This research was never intended to be used for healthy populations. Performing exercises on unstable equipment does not activate the core musculature in healthy individuals, as many believe it to. In order to understand which exercises will help to improve core stability, the core musculature must be outlined.

Just as people have misconceptions of beneficial core exercises, there are misconceptions of core musculature. Generally, when people think of core muscles, only the rectus abdominis and occasionally obliques are mentioned. We hear this a lot in our Personal Training Red Deer studio but it’s understandable to get it mixed up. Core muscles, which include 29 pairs of muscles, stabilize the trunk; therefore include all muscles around the trunk, which include the muscles both anterior and posterior of the spine.

The core musculature is divided into two systems: local and global. Local (stabilization) muscles are deeply placed, slow-twitch, and are active in endurance activities. This system can be further divided into primary and secondary muscles. Primary muscles are the transverses abdominis and multifidi. Secondary muscles include the internal obliques, quadrates lumborum, diaphragm and pelvic floor muscles. Global (movement) muscles are superficial, fast-twitch and are active in power activities. These muscles include the rectus abdominis, psoas major, and erector spinae.

Although it is thought the best way to work on core strength to improve stability would be to perform exercises on unstable surfaces, this notion is false. Individuals whom use free weights are creating an unstable environment that the core muscles are need to maintain balance. When exercises are performed on an unstable surface, the neuromuscular system helps to improve the afferent pathways to enhance the sensation of joint movement. With this enhanced sensation, there is an increase in the proprioceptive pathways, which result in an improvement in balance.

This should not be confused with an increase in core stability. The joint is more capable of adapting to the movement, because of and increase in the neuromuscular system’s recruitment, but there is no increase in core strength: the core is not being recruited to maintain balance. Also, with the use of an unstable base, the amount of weight the individual is able to lift decreases.

On unstable ground, light loads, long tension times, and low velocities are used. With these characteristics, instability training is more suited for endurance, rather than strength and power. When clients are more interested in strength, particularly core strength, deadlifts and squats are the two best exercises. These exercises, performed on a stable surface, activate the core muscles more than on an unstable surface. Squats and deadlifts engage the core, including both the local and global musculature, to ensure proper spine stabilization during the exercise. Decreasing the stability of the lift or environment can vary the difficulty of exercises that increase core strength. The client’s stance can be altered along with the technique used to lift the weight.

The manner in which these exercises and techniques are introduced to populations, excluding injured athletes, should be based on their program goals.

Make sure you know which stimulus you’re trying to evoke and train away!


By Crista Abbott, 360 Fitness Personal Training Red Deer team member

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