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What is Core Stability?

What is Core Stability? 

What is core stability? No, seriously, what is the definition of core stability? Is It the ability to have 6 pack abs? Is it the ability to hollow out, or suck in, my abdominal region? Is it the ability to “brace” my abs with everything that I do? How do I achieve what many people consider to be one of the key components of athletic performance and injury prevention, if I don’t know what it is?

A lot has changed in the past few years and we are learning more and more about how the body functions on an optimal and suboptimal level. Gone are the days of crunches and russian twists and enter the new era of breathing and a new buzzword, pressure.

Many of the same muscles used for optimal postural control and stabilization, also happen to be the same muscles used for breathing: the diaphragm, transverse abdominis, obliques and pelvic floor musculature. If you look at these muscles, their connections and where they are positioned, you will notice that they form a barrel of sorts in the mid-section of your body. This “barrel” is an area that is an essential to maintaining optimal position of your body as well as proper breathing mechanics necessary for high performance. When these muscles perform in coordination with one another, we create intra-abdominal pressure which is necessary for the ability of our body to maintain a neutral posture necessary for daily activity, recreation and competition.

A lack of control of these muscles has been linked to increased incidence of low back pain, Sacroiliac joint pain (SIJ pain) and a variety of other postural faults (excessive lordosis, flattening of the thoracic spine, etc.) Individuals that do not show control of these muscles will have a diaphragm that is “flattened”, or in a position of inhalation, rather than a diaphragm that is in a domed, exhalation position. Along with the suboptimal diaphragm position, we will see decreased activity of the abdominal musculature as well as pelvic floor musculature. In this instance, there is a lack of intra-abdominal pressure, much like a barrel with a leak.

In order to control these muscles, we need to first start by putting the body in a more optimal position for them to function. Without proper position, it is extremely difficult for our muscles (yes the diaphragm is a muscle) to function in an optimal manner. This starts with focusing on being in a ribs down position with all activity. The years of standing as tall and as straight as you can are gone. When you stand as tall as you can, you place your body in an extended position, with ribs that are externally rotated, or flared, in the front of your body. This has widespread effects which compromise the ability of our muscles to function the way they were intended to. People should focus more on “being in the middle” and finding a position where your ribs are down and more internally rotated, creating a position in which the diaphragm, abdominals and pelvic floor can function optimally. In my world, we call this establishing a Zone of Apposition (ZOA).

Without a proper Zone of Apposition, there are a cascade of potential issues that may arise such as the following:

  1. Potential hyperactivity or hypertonicity(high tension/tone) in certain accessory muscles of respiration (scalenes, SCM, levator scapulae, pec minor, trapezius, etc.)

  2. Compromised scapular/shoulder stability

  3. Increase sympathetic drive (fight or flight response)

  4. Anterior weight shift (which can cause a whole host of lower body issues such as shin splints, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendonitis)

In addition to maintaining a ribs down position with daily activity, recreation and competition, it is imperative that we focus on the quality of movement with our breathing. As we go about our daily activities, we should not be focusing on a deep belly breath, but focus on a circumferential, or “full barrel”, inhalation. By emphasizing this barrel breath, we ensure that ribs are expanding, in addition to keeping a neutral spine with each breath in, as opposed to potentially increased the curve of your low back with each breath. This is particularly important for running as our respiration, and ability to breath properly, are a very important part of the sport! Without efficient breathing patterns, we run the risk of fatiguing sooner than we would like, or potentially ending up injured in the long run!

In the world of running, the smallest change can contribute to major improvements in running quality, times and/or overall enjoyment. Reinforcing proper breathing mechanics may be just the change you need to hit a PR in 2017!