In the previous article I defined the difference between core stability and core strength and outlined a simple core training program with suggestions for specific exercises for stability, strength, and power phases. I explained a technique for engaging the core muscles before each exercise.
Before any exercise:
Use the drawing-in maneuver (pulling in the muscles below the navel, activating the local stabilization system) and bracing (“bearing down” and activating the global stabilization system).
Review Article 1!
Here, we will further the discussion on engaging the core stabilizing muscles using alternative techniques. I will also introduce a balancing exercise to develop core control through proprioception.
Engaging core stabilizing muscles and developing proprioceptive core control is the first step in core stability and strength. Practicing engaging these muscles before exercise decreases the chances of injury and activates proprioceptors needed to maintain stability in motion. Let’s begin with a clear definition.
Proprioception is the sense of knowing where a body part is in space in relation to your other body parts. Proprioceptors are mechanosensory neurons located within muscles, tendons, and joints. Proprioceptors become inhibited when muscles, tendons, or ligaments are over stretched, damaged, or injured, such as with sprains or tears.
Inhibited proprioception always results in poor balance and reduced athletic performance. Proprioceptors do not always fully regenerate after injury and sometimes not at all. At High Altitude Training of Arizona, we use a method called MAT (Muscle Activation Techniques) to maximize the regeneration of proprioceptors, after injury and hard training, to greatly reduce complications and future injury.
Core stability is the relationship between proprioception, coordination, and movement of the abdominal, spinal, and glut muscles during activity to ensure firm base to support
the motion of the arms and legs. Core stability can only be achieved if the proprioceptors are working.
Core stability training is a primary component of sport performance and plays a critical role in injury prevention. The core stabilizing muscles are identified in Article 1, please
go back and review.
Engaging core stabilizing muscles is the first step toward improving proprioceptor firing capacity for efficiency in movement and ultimately, injury free performance. Injuries
labeled as “overuse” are actually “misuse” of muscles. It is very unlikely that overuse can occur when all muscles are working in balance and firing in the correct order. The first muscles to fire in a perfect system are the core stabilizers. If they do not, then injury is likely after repeated loading of non-stabilizing muscles (the muscles responsible for movement).
To train these muscles to fire first, I suggest the following exercises be done before core stability and strength workouts.
Neutral spine proprioception exercise
Developing the ability to feel when your spine is in a neutral position involves a perception of anterior core muscle contraction as they oppose and bring posterior core muscles out of contraction. And vice versa. Locating the position of a neutral spine, when these two positions are evenly balanced, allows you to feel the specific muscles that are only involved in stabilizing the spine, the muscles that need to fire first. These muscles should be active before all coordinated movements. The exercise below will help you develop neutral spine proprioception and core stability muscle activation.
1. Start by lying flat on your back on a mat with your knees bent.
2. Place your arms by your sides so that your elbows are straight and your shoulders
3. Slowly take three deep breaths to release any stress and relax your body.
4. Tilt your pelvis so that you are flattening your back into the floor. Isolate the
movement so that only your pelvis is moving.
5. Now tilt your pelvis in the opposite direction so you are arching your lower back.
Again, try to keep the movement isolated to your pelvis.
Repeat steps 4 & 5 a few more times. By tilting your pelvis you are performing what is
called an anterior pelvic tilt(arch back) and a posterior pelvic tilt (flatten back).
Now to locate your neutral spine, find the middle position between flattening and arching
your back.(arch back) and a posterior pelvic tilt (flatten back).
Practice every day!
One legged stance
This exercise will help you develop greater control and proprioception over the muscles
that stabilize you in the stance phase of gait.
1. Put your hands on your hips and stand on your right leg with your left knee bent
behind you so that the foot is behind you, off the ground, but the hip is not flexed (both
thighs straight, perpendicular to the ground) for 30 seconds. Now shift the stance to
your left leg for 30 seconds. Then go back onto your right leg again and close your eyes for 30 seconds. Finally, 30 seconds on the left leg with eyes closed.
Do this exercise at least twice a day.
When you can perform the exercise without wobbling you have achieved a high level of
90/90 Bridge with Ball and Balloon
This exercise promotes optimal posture (diaphragm and lumbar spine position), and
proprioception of the deep abdominals, diaphragm, and pelvic floor (lumbar-pelvic
stabilization) It was also designed to optimize breathing and enhance both posture and
Instructions for the 90/90 Bridge with Ball and Balloon:
1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on a wall and knees and hips bent at a 90-degree
2. Place a 4-6 inch ball between your knees.
3. Place your right arm above your head and a balloon in your left hand.
4. Inhale through your nose and as you exhale through your mouth, perform a pelvic tilt
so that your tailbone is raised slightly off the mat. Keep low back flat on the mat. Do not
press your feet into the wall, instead pull down with your heels.
5. You should feel the back of your thighs and inner thighs engage, keeping pressure on
the ball. Maintain this position for the remainder of the exercise.
6. Now inhale through your nose and slowly blow out into the balloon.
7. Pause three seconds with your tongue positioned on the roof of your mouth to
prevent airflow out of the balloon.
8. Without pinching the neck of the balloon and keeping your tongue on the roof of your
mouth, inhale again through your nose.
9. Slowly blow out as you stabilize the balloon with your left hand.
10. Do not strain your neck or cheeks as you blow.
11. After the fourth breath in, pinch the balloon neck and remove it from your mouth. Let
the air out of the balloon.
12. Relax and repeat the sequence 4 more times.
North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy | Volume 5, Number 3 | September
2010 | Page 179
JAY DICHARRY, 2012, Anatomy for Runners