The first question you might be asking yourself is, what is the difference between core stability and core strength? I understand your concern, you are training your midsection all of the time when you are in the gym. I am performing hanging leg raises, crunches and weighted sit-ups all of the time and my abs are looking great. Well, yes your abs may look great, but they will probably not perform great. In fact they might even get you injured. In this post, we are going to explore why core stability is so important as well as some of the best exercises you can perform to train core stability.
Why You Should Do Core Stability Exercises?
The “core” is very misunderstood and in order to magnify its importance we need first explain what it is. The core is composed of many muscle groups that interact at the body’s center of gravity (hips). These muscles are the abs, the spinal erectors and the hip musculature.
These muscle groups are responsible for stabilizing the entire body both at rest, during workouts and during competition. If they are not trained properly, however, then they may become a liability.
Part of the problem comes from too much sitting. When we sit down for too long our hips and our abs tend to become inactive. Our spinal erectors, as a result end up either becoming either too stiff from overextension, or too loose for being hunched over.
So when we take this poor core stability and apply it to exercises that require a braced spine, such as the deadlift, or upper back mobility, such as the military press, we suffer. Our joints become too stiff and dysfunctional. As a result, we use dysfunctional movement patterns to perform these types of exercises. Injury is usually the unfortunate result.
So how can we “re-awaken” our bodies core? How do we get these muscles to work together in unison? Fixing your posture is the best long term strategy. There are also exercises that will benefit you in the short term until your posture is up to par. These core stability exercises are some of my favorite and ones that I often use regularly.
The pallof press trains anti-rotational stability. Whenever your body twists in any way, the core has to provide an anti-rotational force in order to stabilize the trunk. Activities such as running, sprinting, throwing and unilateral work of any kind depend on optimal anti-rotational strength. If the body does not have the proper amount of stability it will start compensating in order to carry out the movements. This can lead to hip and shoulder instability.
The pallof press is performed in a half kneeling position with some kind of resistance band. Position your body at about a 45 degree angle from the anchor point of the band, either in front or behind. Your spine should be neutral. Grasp the band with both hands at your sternum and press the band straight out in front of you. Slowly bring it back to your chest. That is one repetition.
The band is going to be trying to pull you sideways and knock you over. Fight it every step of the way and try to go as slowly as possible. You will feel your deep abdominal muscles light up like crazy when doing this exercise. Aim to do about 5-8 repetitions with perfect form.
Half Kneeling Chop To Front Raise
Eric Cressy works with exercises such as this one primarily because he works with plenty of overhead athletes. Overhead issues are a major concern for many lifters and athletes alike. Having poor core stability will set the shoulders into a bad position for overhead exercises and activities. So in addition to pallof presses, we also have to train the core to maintain stability when overhead.
Find a cable machine in your local gym and attach a pulldown rope to it. Get down in the half kneeling position at a 45 degree angle to the anchor point. Pull the rope through the band until you are holding both ends in your hands. Pull the rope apart and apply maximum tension onto the rope. Hold the rope out in front of you with straight arms and bring the rope over your head.
You should feel your core and shoulders stabilize with this one. If you feel anything in your lower back, then you are doing it wrong. Most of the tension should be felt in your abdominals. This exercise is trickier than it looks, so perform a low number of repetitions at first. Start with 5 reps, then work your way up to 10 reps each side.
Hollow Body Holds
The hollow body hold is one of the best core exercises you can perform. When people perform exercises such as hanging leg raises and sit-ups, they are mostly training their hip flexors. The hip flexors run from the pelvis all the way up to the thoracolumbar region of the back. They are in charge of flexing both the hips and the trunk.
Without proper guidance this fault goes unnoticed and back pain usually results. Hollow body holds help to cue the abs to fire instead of the hip flexors. This results in a stable and pain free trunk.
To perform the hollow body hold, lay down on the ground face up. Bend your knees into your chest as far as you can and lift your head off of the ground. Now from here extend both of your legs in front of you, with pointed toes and hold this position. There is a catch to this exercise, however. You must keep your entire back flat on the floor. This ensures the abs are doing their job.
Work up to holding for 1 minute. You can also bring your arms overhead as well to make the exercise more difficult.
T-pushups are great in that they are so simple to administer. Simply put, you can either do them or you can’t. These pushups not only develop thoracic and shoulder mobility, but they also develop core stability.
Assume a normal pushup position on the ground with your feet slightly wider than normal. Take one hand off the ground and reach up towards the sky and then bring it back to the ground. Your body should be shaped like a T. This exercise should be performed slowly as to increase its effect. When looking from the side your body should form a straight line.
Aim to do around 8-10 reps on each side. When this gets too easy, do it holding dumbbells.
Dynamic Side Plank
The dynamic side plank is a more realistic side plank. In ordinary life we are not typically holding tight abs while standing still, unless your a para-sailor. But if we add a dynamic element to the side plank we suddenly make it more functional.
Begin in a side plank pose on your hand, similar to the top position of the T-pushup. Now take your free arm and leg and move them in towards each other. Your body should not move at all and you should try to get your arm and leg as close together as possible.
Keep it slow and controlled. Shoot for 5-8 reps each side.