You Don’t Need Core Stability or Core Strength

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of a TG.com regular contributor, Boston-based physical therapist Andrew Millett.

What’s the difference between core stability and core strength? Which one is more important? Find out below.

 

You don’t need to be be doing core stability exercises or core strengthening exercises. You NEED to be doing BOTH!

What is Core Stability?

Core stability is the ability of the musculature of the trunk aka the “core” to be able to maintain a certain position. It involves musculature contractions typically 20-25% of MVIC (Maximal Voluntary Isometric Contraction). Another way to think of it is that these exercises require precision and control of movement rather than brute strength.

An example of a “core stability” exercise would be the Bird Dog.

 

The Bird Dog movement requires the participant to maintain a neutral spine position while moving an arm and leg. This does not require a maximal contraction of the abdominal musculature. It requires a low-level, precise contraction of certain musculature to maintain a neutral spine. There are NOT large amount of forces being exuded to cause the person to have to exhibit brute strength to have to perform.

Other examples of “Core Stability” exercises are:

½ Kneeling Chops

 

½ Kneeling Lifts

 

Dead Bug

 

Segmental Rolling

 

 

Prone Superman’s

 

The exercises mentioned above are all movements that can be made more difficult by adding weight or resistance. The purpose of these “easy” movements are to improve the timing and sequencing of the core musculature. Performance of these exercises are to be performed with precision and control.

What is Core Strength?

Core Strength is the ability of the core musculature to maintain or control a certain position against increased forces of gravity, resistance, or weight. Exercises or movements that would be considered core strength are:

Swiss Ball Rollouts

 

RKC Plank

 

Stir the Pot

 

Sledgehammer Hits

 

Anti-Rotation (Pallof) Press

 

All the movement mentioned above are using some form of external force. Whether it be gravity, weight, etc., the core musculature has to exhibit a much greater force to resist moving through the spine.

Why Do WE Need BOTH?

Well, you can have great core stability and be weaker than a baby kitten in a wet paper bag or you can have the strongest core in the world and can have poor core stability.

How is that so?

For example, maybe you can hold a plank with proper form for an inordinate amount of time, ie. 5 minutes. I would say that you have great core strength. But we can’t say that you have great core stability.

Here are a few quick tests to determine how someone’s core stability is functioning:

Segmental Rolling

 

 

Key Points:

  • Attempt to roll from your back to your stomach using one arm and no legs.
  • You may lift your head and reach with one arm.

Bird Dog

 

Key Points:

  • Can you maintain a neutral spine while alternating arms/legs?
  • Does the pelvis remain level while performing?

If so, then you passed.  If not, then barring any type of decreased hip extension, thoracic spine extension, or upper extremity flexion mobility, your core stability may be impaired.

½ Kneeling

 

Key Points:

  • Bring front foot so that it is in line with down leg.
  • You should be able to maintain your balance without shaking or using your arms for balance.
  • Typically, one side is more difficult than the other.  There may be a core stability issue if you cannot maintain an upright posture in tandem ½ Kneeling.

If you can perform the ½ Kneeling Test and both sides feel relatively equal, then you passed. If not, then barring any type of decreased hip extension, ankle, or thoracic spine mobility limitations, this could be indicative of a core stability issue.

I don’t think I need to go into as much detail for core strength, but the importance of maintaining a certain position when deadlifting, squatting, lunging, etc. is hugely important to decrease risk of injury and to improve performance.

We need core stability because throughout the spine there are tiny stabilizing muscles that go from spine segment to spinal segment.

 

If you present with an imbalance during the Bird Dog, try performing with a towel roll on your low back and widen your base of support so that the movement is challenging but you can perform it with good form.

 

If the ½ Kneeling Test has imbalances present, try performing ½ Kneeling Chops with a band around the lower legs to improve core musculature recruitment.

The responsibility of these muscles is to stabilize from one spinal segment to another or stabilize a few spinal segments that they may cross over. If these tiny muscles don’t do their job and stabilize like during a bird dog, ½ Kneeling position, or during segmental rolling, compensation will occur.

Instead of those aforementioned muscles working, the work will be placed upon the larger muscles such as the paraspinals, etc.

Who Cares?

Well, if the small, stabilizer muscles aren’t stabilizing effectively and the larger muscles are working harder than they need to, then this can cause movement compensations over time and in turn place you at risk for injury or decrease performance.

If you present with an imbalance during segmental rolling and either can’t do a certain direction or one direction is harder than the other, perform it with some assistance.

 

If all else fails, see a licensed medical provider with a background in the Selective Functional Movement Assessment here (http://www.functionalmovement.com/site/aboutsfma)

With that said, we need BOTH. Performing core stability exercises as mentioned above during a dynamic warm-up or super-setted in a workout AND doing core strengthening super-setted during a workout.

Run yourself or your client through some of these tests and see what you can do to help improve their movement quality through core stability and core strengthening.

About the Author

Andrew Millett is a Metro-West (Boston) based physical therapist.

Facebook: From The Ground Up

Twitter: @andrewmillettpt

Instagram: andrewmillettpt
YouTube: Andrew Millett PT

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  • Paige Mead

    I found this subject very interesting. I have heard so many mixed opinions about whether or not core exercises are important and should be included into your daily routine. I have heard that doing abdominal exercises every day is actually counterproductive, while some people have said it is extremely important. I personally believe a strong core is essential, like it was mentioned above it is important to maintain good posture during lifts (such as deadlifting, or squatting), and in order to do that your core must also be strong. I have never seen some of the core exercises that were posted above, and I definitely want to go try them now that I have seen them. I have tried the Pallof press before and was very pleasantly surprised with how well it targeted my core. I had my doubts before trying it because it really doesn’t look like it would do much, but I loved it. And based off that experience I think I would really love some of the others posted above. Is there a recommendation you have for how often you should be adding core exercises into your routine? Like I said, I have previously heard every other day is more beneficial than every day. But if there is a different opinion out there I would be interested in hearing it and trying something new!

  • Shane Mclean

    Andrew, with the half kneeling core stability test, how long should you hold that position? Good article with great videos mate. I enjoyed it and congrats on making the articles of the week.

  • I wish I cared about these before I destroyed my back beyond help. I encourage everyone to do both core stability & strength BEFORE you really need it – might just save you a lot of pain & misery.

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  • Joe Conrad

    It’s great to see new content about core exercises. It is incredibly important for total body strength, balance, and for toning your midsection. Thanks for the new exercises and I can only return the favor with some of my own favorites @ http://www.abworkoutsonline.com

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