Core stability, how important is it?
Recently, I had a client who is a high level dancer that has been experiencing pain and tightness in her left leg for a few years now. While watching her perform a solo, I noticed that although she is extremely flexible, during jumps and leg extensions she struggles to reach her full potential. When asked to repeat the required motions while lying down, her range of motion was far above average, so she should technically be able to reach these ranges while standing and jumping.
After a full assessment, I learned that she has overall weakness on the left side, especially in her glutes and hip flexors. An important note is that I found no other possible pathologies that could be causing her pain and weakness. As the assessment progressed, I began to think of what else can be causing this young dancer so much trouble. I began to recall how she seemed to struggle with completing more than 2 consecutive turns and balancing without wobbles during her solo. I decided to check her core stability as a possible cause to a lot of her troubles and found that she lacks control in her core and had trouble activating the required muscles.
This is something I notice in a lot of athletes, not just the dancers. Everyone is busy concentrating on strengthening and technique and they seem to forget about one of the most important aspects–the core! Often when an athlete is asked “do you work on your core strength as well?,” they begin to tell you about all of the sit ups, crunches, and planks they do. Although sit ups and crunches work directly on the abdominals, they don’t go much further than that and aren’t a very functional exercise–when in a typical day do you perform that motion!? Planking is a pretty good core exercise, when done correctly, but you need more than just a few planking exercises to have a strong core since it doesn’t address every aspect of the core and isn’t normally performed as a dynamic movement.
Your core is comprised of very deep muscles that stabilize your spine, so your main “movers” can do what they are designed to do–move your limbs and body. The muscles that need to be focused on for a strong core are the transverse abdominis, multifidus, diaphragm, and pelvic floor.
The transverse abdominus is the deepest layer of abdominal muscles, which when contracted will act like a corset and keep your spine and pelvis in the correct neutral position. Having a direct attachment to your vertabrae and wrapping around your middle to connect in the front, this muscle has a major role in stabilizing the spine while you are moving and helps to increase abdominal pressure. Multifidus is a group of small muscles that runs vertically up the entire length of your spine. When activating correctly, multifidus stabilizes the vertebrae and assists in spinal extension. The diaphragm and pelvic floor are the “roof” and “floor” of the abdominal cavity and work simultaneously with the transverse abdominus to maintain abdominal pressure when breathing as well as providing stability for the spine.
When your core is not activated during movement, whether you are walking, sprinting, dancing, kicking, throwing, etc., your “mover” muscles are forced to perform the duties of the core muscles. For example, with the dancer mentioned above, her core doesn’t activate during leg extensions and jumps so her quads, hamstrings, and hip flexors are forced to attempt stabilization of her pelvis and spine. In doing this, those muscles are less able to do their actual jobs and fail to move her legs appropriately. Although she is extremely flexible while sitting or lying down, she can’t reach a full split position in the air. There is also the problem of tight, weak muscles that can result from an inactive core. If your main movers are always trying to stabilize your core, how can they ever relax? By learning to activate your core muscles appropriately, your prime movers can finally relax and begin to do their job again.
As you can see, your core is an extremely important part of your musculature and you can’t function properly and efficiently without it. A fully functioning and strong core will allow your other muscles to relax and do their respective jobs more efficiently. Once you are able to use the correct muscles for the job, you may find that it’s easier to stay balanced, strong, and flexible. Add a few core exercises to your regular work out and see how it helps to positively affect your performance.
To begin your journey to a stronger core, you will need to start by learning to breathe properly and activate those deep core muscles. Once you can do this, you can try some more challenging exercises that incorporate limb movement while the core is working. Some examples include:
Dead Bug or any variation of arms and legs moving while keeping your core activated
Alternating arms and legs moving during the superman exercise to work on multifidus
4 point superman to add an extra challenge for rotational stability
Bridge, you may want to add a leg raise or a stability ball under your feet. This one targets core stability while also training your glutes, hamstrings, and back extensors to fire together
Once these exercises are too easy, you should move to a seated or standing position to more accurately represent movements you perform each day. Try to incorporate functional movements as well as movements that directly translate to your activity of choice. Throughout every exercise, focus on maintaining good technique throughout the movement and don’t forget to breathe!
If you require guidance or any type of assistance in your core strength journey, come by the clinic and I’ll be happy to help guide you in the right direction!