Core Strength vs Core Stability

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The core is one of the biggest buzz words in the health and fitness realm. There is a multitude of modalities which proclaim that they will improve function and strength of the core. Unfortunately, a lot of these approaches are based on outdated research and without a thorough understanding of functional anatomy and biomechanics. The purpose of this article is to inform you of our approach to core training and the why to our approach.

When we look at core strength and stability, we need to carefully define what these terms actually mean. In 2003, Hall defined stability as ‘resistance to both angular and linear acceleration, or resistance to disruption of equilibrium’. This basically can be broken down as the ability to withstand unwanted movement. Strength is defined by Kraemer and Knuttgen and Kraemer as the maximal amount of force a muscle or muscle group can generate in a specified movement pattern at a specified velocity of movement. By looking at these two definitions we can see a big difference between core stability and core strength.

Core stability can be understood as the ability of the core to resist an unwanted movement. Core strength can be identified as the amount of force the core can produce to perform a desired movement. These can clearly be seen as two totally different functions, yet they are both totally interdependent on the other.

If an exercise class or modality promises to improve core strength and the majority of the exercises involve static postures while activating the core, are they training core strength or stability? In reality, they are improving stability and not strength. What also needs to be identified is how to train the core to be stable.

According to physical therapist Shirley Sahrman in her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement impairment Syndromes the abdominal muscles need to:

1. Appropriately stabilize the spine

2. Maintain optimal alignment and movement relationships between the pelvis and spine

3. Prevent excessive stress and compensatory motions of the pelvis during movements of the extremities.

To stabilize the spine we need to ensure activation of all the abdominal musculature and in what way we want the spine to be stable. I consider spine stabilization to be the maintenance of a neutral spine under load and the resistance of rotation. Training the core to resist rotation may seem like a strange idea. In fact, many core strengthening programs try to increase rotation, particularly at the lumbar spine. This is not a good idea, as the lumbar spine only rotates between 3-18 degrees.

We generally find in our assessment protocol that our clients who suffer from low back pain actually are overly mobile at the lumbar spine and suffer from immobility at the hip joints and the thoracic spine. The mobility of these two vital areas will be addressed in another article.

Mobility has become a huge topic in the fitness industry with people creating mobility exercise for every joint in every plane of motion. In reality though, some joints are inherently designed for stability, not mobility, and increasing mobility at these joints is asking for problems. The lower back is one area we want to be stable with mobility surrounding it.

Our progression for stability follows these rules and is as follows

1. Static core – static extremity – This includes exercises like planks and side planks

2. Static core – dynamic extremity – This includes bird dogs and chop and lift drills. Squats, dead lifts and lunges fall under this as well.

3. Dynamic core – static extremity – This category includes crunch variations, particularly reverse crunches

4. Dynamic core – Dynamic extremity – This progression leads to exercises like turkish get ups and other dynamic full body exercises.

If you follow this progression scheme not only will you build great stability through the core but you will also integrate it into everyday life and dynamic movement. Train hard! 

 By: Paul Meldrum

Core Strength vs Core Stability

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