There is a huge difference between core strength and core stability, and for many years I trained my core in the wrong way! Yes, defined abs can be a nice bonus of a core training program, but the goal of core training isn't all about sculpting a six pack. For me, and the way I work with my clients, it's about building a bulletproof core that stabilises the spine and prevents injury, the fact that a strong core can help us run faster and lift more is just a bonus!
The core is not just our tummy muscles, but the centre of our body, and its function is to stabilise the trunk while the arms and legs move during functional movements such as reaching forward, walking up and down stairs, carrying groceries, picking kids toys up off the floor, or walking at a fast pace.
When we view it this way, we see that the core actually includes:
Muscles that stabilise the hips.
The system of muscles that make up the torso on the front, the sides, and the back of the body.
Muscles that stabilise the shoulders.
So what IS the difference?
By definition "strength" is the ability to produce force throughout a given movement. "Stability" on the other hand, refers to the ability to resist unwanted movement. Core strength therefore produces force throughout a movement like a sit up or a back extension, whereas, core stability is when all the musculature of the core tightens statically to resist unwanted motion.
Core stability is essentially the ability to maintain your balance without falling over; the ability to keep your posture and position stable. Core stability training, demands that you resist moving your lumbar spine by engaging all of your abdominal musculature, therefore, a good core routine should target not just your abs but all the muscles that attach to the spine and pelvis including your obliques, glutes, lower back, pelvic floor and hip muscles.
Core stability should be able to achieve 3 things;
stabilise the spine
maintain optimal alignment between the pelvis and the spine
prevent unwanted and compensatory movements of the pelvis/spine during movements of the extremities.
Your ability to use your muscles to keep you in a stable position is so important, core stability helps take pressure off of the spine and protects against forces exerted on the body during everyday activities. Put that into the gym and core stability is required when lifting large amounts of weight. Imagine a heavy squat, you need to have the ability to stiffen up your core with the weight on your back while pushing through your legs to move your body up and down. If you can't brace your core with that weight on your back; your trunk can potentially rotate, flex, laterally flex... creating unwanted motion and making the exercise dangerous and potentially setting you up for injury.
So why not put the crunches and situps on the back burner and give these core stability staples a go?
I believe core stability is best trained through isometrics, Isometric training is essentially a fancy way to categorise exercises that recruit muscles and exert tension without actually lengthening or shortening the muscle. It is a stagnant way of placing a demand on a desired muscle or group of muscles. My favourites include planks, side planks, dead bugs and bird dogs.
The most important thing to remember when training the core is to avoid using momentum and instead perform each exercise with awareness so that the core is actually engaged. Core stability has been invaluable for managing my back pain and Scoliosis and core stability is absolutely for everyone!
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