Your ‘core’ is comprised of a number of muscles working together to achieve and maintain a stable spine. A strong core and perhaps more importantly, a core with good endurance allow us to move with ease and mechanical advantage; in order to avoid injury!
Your core muscles include: rectus abdominis, internal and external oblique, transversus abdominis, but also – you may be surprised to learn – the quadratus lumborum, and the gluteal muscles.
Your goal when working on your core is to create spinal stability. Stability may be achieved by increasing core strength, but Dr Stuart Mcgill (Professor of Biomechanics at the University of Waterloo) reminds us that improving core endurance may be more important than strength. Endurance provides the ability to maintain a stable spine throughout a variety of activities.
Many therapy approaches have the objectives of strengthening muscle and increasing spine range of motion. This is problematic (Parks et al, 2003) since those who have more motion in their backs have a greater risk of having future back troubles. Strength may, or may not, help a particular individual as strength without control and endurance to repeatedly execute perfect form increases risk. Dr Stuart McGill
McGill goes on to explain that people with ‘troubled backs’ tend to have faulty movement patterns like “gluteal amnesia” and more motion in their backs and less motion in their hips.
With the goal of stability in mind, it would be prudent to strengthen gluteal muscles, increase range of motion in our hips and choose abdominal exercises that do not put unnecessary stress and strain through the low back and discs.
No sit-ups or crunches
It is for this reason, that I will NEVER recommend crunches or sit-ups. Both of these exercises involve repetitive flexion of the lower back (lumbar spine). Repetitive flexion can lead to degeneration of the spinal joints and discs over time.
Effective spinal stabilization should begin with a solid understanding of what stability is. “Stability has little to do with the ability to balance on a gym ball. Sitting on an exercise ball performing movement exercises is generally a poor choice of back exercise until quite late in a therapeutic progression,” says Mcgill. “True spine stability is achieved with a “balanced” stiffening from the entire core musculature.”
Reducing risk of injury
One of the most effective exercises for improving spinal stability is the abdominal brace. Many personal trainers are still teaching the wrong position for core exercises – a position that will wear out your discs, cause premature aging and ruin your posture and balance long-term.
The abdominal brace is a super little exercise, that teaches you how to engage your core whether you are standing in a line, talking on the phone or simply walking down the street!