Maintaining the ideal alignment from the neck to the shoulder blades, spine and pelvis when performing a sport skill, exercise or activity of daily living requires core stability.
It should be intuitive that a stable core requires proper activation of muscles on both the front (anterior) and back (posterior) side of the body, as well as the right and left sides of the spine.
Some researchers and coaches refer to “the core” as a “box” with the diaphragm as the top and the pelvic floor as the bottom. Muscles within this box attach the pelvis and ribs to the spine.
Other researchers and coaches expand the box to include the muscles spanning the shoulders and hips. The analogy of an anterior and posterior serape exemplifies those muscles’ role in transferring force and power from the hips to the arms during rotational movements such as kicking, throwing, golfing and swinging a racquet.
When the core musculature is working optimally, there is control and efficiency of the movement. This requires coordinated muscular contractions and neuromuscular fine-tuning so that the compressive forces of the movement are appropriately directed through the muscles and joints.
Benefits of these coordinated and fine-tuned contractions are reported to be good postural alignment, normalized patterns of movement and reduced joint dysfunction from head to foot.
Exercise routines for the core begin with loosening and lengthening the muscles; many practitioners use foam rollers for this.
Next, engage in a warm-up that involves everything from the hips to the shoulders; the “cat-cow” is a good exercise for this.
The next step is to progress to floor-based stability exercises to properly activate the deeper core musculature and keep the lumbar spine (low back region) in a neutral position to maintain its natural curvature. Activate the muscular “girdle” that encircles the abdomen and lower back by performing easy, submaximal co-contractions of the three layers of the abdominal muscles. This is called “bracing.”
Do this in a hold-and-relax pattern while focusing on the symmetry of simultaneous contractions of the right and left sides. Exercise options are supine bent-knee raises, bridging, and front and side planks.
To add a level of difficulty using the same or similar stability exercises reduce the base of support, increase the moment arm and perform the exercises using an unstable surface.
You can decrease the base of support by performing front and side planks on your hands and one foot; moving your feet closer together for standing exercises; or balancing on one foot (for bridging), one hand (for planks), two hands and one knee (for “bird dog”).
You can increase the moment arm by straightening the knee of the elevated leg for a supine bent-knee raise or while bridging; if performing “bird dogs,” hold one leg straight out behind you and the opposite arm straight out in front of you while maintaining a neutral lumbar spine without rotation. For the additional challenge of working on an unstable surface, incorporate a physioball, foam pad or rocker board into your exercises.
Transitioning to standing and/or anti-rotational movements on stable and then unstable surfaces may include some new exercises such as one-armed push-ups or wall pushes, one-armed cable press in a contralateral stance (i.e. right arm press and left foot forward) and Pallof presses.
Remember to maintain normal breathing throughout and control the abdominal wall to keep the spine aligned without any rotation. Focus on the quality of the repetitions, not the number of them. Also, whatever you do one side, do again on the side.
You can find examples of the exercises written about here via internet searches.