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Core Stability

Core stability is an essential determinant of success for all sports people, be they cyclists, runners or swimmers, football or rugby players, golfers or rowers. That’s because the body's core muscles are the foundation for all other movement.

The muscles of the torso stabilise the spine and provide a solid foundation for movement in the extremities. These core muscles lie deep within the torso. They generally attach to the spine, pelvis and muscles that support the scapula. When these muscles contract, we stabilise the spine, pelvis and shoulders and create a solid base of support. We are then able to generate powerful movements of the extremities.

The biggest benefit of core training is to develop functional fitness - that is, fitness that is essential to both daily living and regular activities. However, training the muscles of the core also corrects postural imbalances that can lead to injuries. Indeed, core stability is now seen as an essential attribute for any player who seeks to keep their chances of sports injury to the absolute minimum.

The Effects of a Sedentary Life-Style – is your day job undermining your chances of sporting success?

Sitting for long periods during the day can adversely affect your performance in your chosen sport and is quite often a predisposing factor in injury.

Most of us are not professional athletes and spend large chunks of our day sitting hunched over a computer, in a vehicle or slumped on the sofa.

While for swimmers and triathletes, muscular imbalances and weaknesses in the shoulders and mid-spine – caused by spending much of the day hunched over a computer screen – can lead to a shoulder impingement/tendinitis injury.

Training for Core Stability explains what active measures you can take, first to recognise the impact of your working environment on your physical condition, and secondly, how you can counteract these – and thus ensure that your day job is not undermining your efforts to achieve sporting success.

Building Core Stability – practical training menus for every athlete

Within the repertoire of core stability there is a large range of exercises, the suitability of which will vary according to the injury and therapeutic needs of each individual.

There are three major groups of exercise:

those focusing on getting the small deep lying stabilising muscles (such as the lower abdominals and deep spinal muscles) to work properly. These exercises are often taken from clinical Pilates.

static bodyweight exercises that concentrate on developing stability and/or strength endurance in certain postures. These need you to learn how simultaneously to work your small stabiliser muscles and the larger mobiliser muscles. One popular example is the ‘plank’.

Traditional dynamic strength exercises for the main movement muscles of the trunk, often performed on the floor or Swiss ball.

While sports therapists use a variety of approaches, it is common to start you off working on the first type of exercise (how to use the smaller stability muscles properly) and then progress to more strength-based work as your injury improves.

Core stability work is by no means confined to the rehab clinic, however. Sports physicians, physiotherapists and strength and conditioning coaches also recommend that their clients perform regular core stability or trunk strength exercises to prevent injury. The rationale for prophylactic training is that increased recruitment of the stabiliser muscles and increased strength of the prime movers (main movement muscles) will carry over into better posture and more control, both in daily life and in sporting movements.

So it is very likely you will have come across some core stability exercises through your local sports club, gym or any other general training context. Most of us tend to have a list of three or four of these exercises that we include in our workouts each week.

While this prehabilitative strategy is well intentioned it has two limitations.

The first is behavioural. Core stability exercises can quite quickly become ‘bore stability’! It takes self-discipline to do 20 to 30 minutes of the same exercises three or more times a week over a long period, so most of us lapse, or at best skimp on this part of the workout after a while.

The second limitation is physiological. The key training principles of specificity and progression apply to core work in the same way that they do to any other aspect of physical fitness. It is quite common for an athlete to perform the same core routine over a long period and get very good at four or five movements or ‘holds’. But teach the same athlete a new core exercise and they will find it difficult, simply because it’s a new stimulus. The message is that progression and variety are key to optimising benefits of a strengthening programme.

For these reasons, the scheme of ‘core training menus presented in Core Stability Training aims to overcome the problems of non-compliance and lack of challenge. In so doing, it provides a system where an individual can follow a prophylactic or rehabilitative core stability and strengthening programme using a wide variety of movements to maximise adaptations for improvement, and which muscle groups are targeted for training.

Pilates’ system didn't really hit the big time, however, until the 1990s.

After years of high-impact, feel-the-burn fitness workouts, there was great appeal in a slower, safer approach to health and wellness. Fitness Pilates can condition the body from head to toe with a no- to low-impact approach suitable for all ages and abilities. It requires patience, attention to detail with your body and consistent practice, but results are guaranteed to follow if one sticks at it and does it right.

In Training for Core Stability, you’ll learn exactly how to use Pilates safely as a method of enhancing your body’s core stability. And you’ll learn the core principles behind the proper practice of Pilates – so you’ll know how to recognise a good Pilates instructor from a bad one.

Because when practised badly, Pilates routines can lead to pain and long-term injury – the very opposite of what its creator intended.

Runners – did you know that firming up your butt can boost your running performance?

How many regular runners would suspect that the upper buttock muscle (gluteus medius) is the culprit in very many running overuse injuries?

This fact is less surprising once you understand that during running you are always either completely in the air or dynamically balanced on one leg – and in both circumstances the gluteus medius is a key muscle.

Situated on the upper edge of the hip, the gluteus medius is responsible for lifting the leg away from the body (abduction), helping it to rotate inwards and outwards, and, crucially, keeping the pelvis stable in certain situations, including the stance phase of running. During right stance phase, for instance, the muscle contracts to slow the downward motion of the left side of the pelvis so that the pelvis doesn’t tilt heavily towards the ground. If the gluteus medius is not functioning well enough to achieve this control, the athlete is said to have a “Trendelenburg gait”.

Often, but not always, the same weakness may be noticeable in walking, producing a waddling motion or, in extreme cases, a limp.

Runners who have a weak or easily fatigued gluteus medius are likely to make various adaptations to their technique, which can hide the true reason for a running injury.