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What Makes For Effective Core Stability

They are the two words we love to use but I’m not sure we fully understand, core stability. Trust me, I wish it was as easy as just saying, “train y0ur abs”, but it isn’t, I wish it was as easy as saying, “do planks”, but it isn’t. Gaining a bit more understanding of what core stability means, helps us really understand that the world and progressions of core stability are much bigger than most of us think and more powerful than we may realize.

Okay, I gotta start by using a little science for you, don’t worry I’m not going to go over the top and try to make it as easy to understand as possible. When we say core , what do we mean? I think no one better can explain than world renown spine expert, Dr. Stuart McGill, “The core is composed of the lumbar spine, the muscles of the abdominal wall, the back extensors, and quadratus lumborum. Also included are the multijoint muscles, namely, latissimus dorsi and psoas that pass through the core, linking it to the pelvis, legs, shoulders, and arms. Given the anatomic and biomechanical synergy with the pelvis, the gluteal muscles may also be considered to be essential components as primary power generators (the synergy of these components is outlined elsewhere.”

core training

So, that means trying to isolate any muscle of the core is not only an exercise in futility, but rather unproductive as well. McGill additionally points out, “The core musculature functions differently than the limb musculature in that core muscles often co-contract, stiffening the torso such that all muscles become synergists-examples in a wide variety of training and athletic activities. Thus, training the core effectively means training it differently than the limb muscles.”

What becomes evident rather quickly is that we don’t typically even understand what the core is and that is why discussing core stability can be difficult. The complex has a different responsibility and goal as McGill references above than most of the body. This is why myths about core training and core stability still persist. It gets a little MORE dicey when we realize that the muscles of the core act a bit differently depending upon the task the body is trying to perform. However, you sill see McGill points out some major flaws people make in training core stability and don’t realize why some old gym exercises are outdated.

“Evidence and common practice are not always consistent in the training community. For example, some believe that repeated spine flexion is a good method to train the flexors (the rectus abdominis and the abdominal wall). Interestingly, these muscles are rarely used in this way because they are more often used to brace while stopping motion. Thus, they more often act as stabilizers than flexors. Furthermore, repeated bending of the spinal discs is a potent injury mechanism (10,61). Another example of misdirected practice commonly occurs when some trainers have their clients pull in their abdominals to “activate their transverse abdominis” to enhance stability. First, this does not target the major stabilizers of the spine because studies that measure stability show that the most important stabilizers are task specific.”

core stability

Great examples are what physical therapist, Scott Corso shows in our DVRT Bird Dogs

This means the core is about resisting motion more than anything (moving the spine loaded and unloaded are different just as moving the body and wanting to develop power and strength is very different) and this is accomplished with “stiffening” of the core. Now, initially this means creating a lot of tension helps us learn what this means in teaching core stability and over time we want this to be more reflexive in nature, if we didn’t, we would walk around like Frankenstein! How does this really though in training?

How We Teach Core Stability & Why Planks Are Foundational

Recently a coach reached out to me on social media and wondered how we cue the use of the core. She had been coaching people to “engage their core” or “use their core”. The issue is that doesn’t really mean anything to most people. HOW should I use the core and how do I use all these muscles?

We use a simple, but not easy, system of starting with the hands and feet. As I’ve written about many times, over half our bones in our hands and feet as well as our first interaction with the outside world are through these two areas, so teaching HOW to do  so is really important as a foundation to getting core stability to be understood.

core stability

Teaching people HOW to use their core is just as, if not MORE important to building good core stability and strength. 

This leads to why planks are foundational, they teach whole body tension that helps us understand the type of stability we are looking to achieve. That means being very active in “driving” our forearms and balls of feet into the ground as we plank. That changes the movement completely! You should notice the intensity goes way up and combined with trying to hold up one’s body, that is A LOT more difficult and that is why using these DVRT core stability progressions for teaching the plank is so effective.

The cues and progressions that DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki shows is powerful and a great path to see how training progresses. 

Resisting Movement

What do we mean by resisting movement? Performance expert, Dr. Brandon Marcello does a great job of breaking down that to achieve true stability we learn to resist lateral and rotational forces as we move or from an appropriate stance. People don’t do this well as they often use structure (wide stances or positions) to create artificial stability and actually take away from the core stability and stability training in general we want to achieve. This is even more important in more dynamic actions which is why we don’t use drills like sumo deadlifts over elevating the Ultimate Sandbag to teach the foundations of proper hip hinging.

sandbag deadlift

Raising the weight is better than changing the stance.

Side planks are an obvious example of resisting lateral motion, while a lateral lunge is us moving through the lateral plane. Neither one is better than another, but typically we need to teach how to resist before we move through all three planes. Why? It goes back to core stability, learning how to resist these forces that are trying to move our body out of alignment both teach us how to control our core and how to integrate the body correctly. These progressions are great examples of how we do this simply.

Pulsing Core Stability

One of the reasons that rotation is a big part of not only DVRT but how scientists look at human movement is because there are so many elements of core stability that rotation requires. We don’t twist with our backs when we create rotation, we create a pivoting action in a foot that creates a chain reaction that allows us to use the more mobile hips with the powerful glutes to create rotation which allows us to produce more power, save our low backs, and helps transmit force to our upper body (you never punch with your arm!).

Foundational rotational training starts like lateral core training in that we want to learn to resist before we move. You’ve seen this in our drag progressions as well as some of these DVRT movements.

The higher form of core stability is when we we don’t want to be high tension all the time. Tension is great when you are going to only move up and down, but when you need to be more agile and athletic, you need to turn your core “on” at the right time for stability, but also allow for relaxation so we can move in these different directions.

That is what makes our Around the World drill so effective. We can make them to resist rotation as you see Robin Paget showing proper progressions below (going from resisting to producing rotation), but also with rotation depending upon what we do with the body. Both require us to have this balance of tension/relaxation but more important as we need to move with more fluidity. This is actually what helps our shoulders as we are not moving the weight with our shoulders, but with our core. The greater core stability provides a stronger foundation for our extremities to move from and is why we feel better with our shoulders.

When you understand how our body functions, we can create better solutions and have more fun with our training. That is what we show in our DVRT Online Certification/Courses which you can save 30% off with code “pb30” HERE