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Fitness: Increasing Core Stability

Introduction

Increasing your core stability means making the muscles of your trunk stronger to keep your spine and body stable. This helps you stay balanced when you move.

Core stability benefits everyone, from older people to top professional athletes.

 

Core stability means that the trunk of your body—your core—is strong and able to support the rest of your muscles as you move. When your core isn't stable because its muscles are weak, you may lose your balance more easily. And you may hurt yourself more easily when you make sudden movements or movements you're not used to.

The main muscles involved in core stability are the inner core muscles in your abdomen and pelvis. These muscles act mostly to support your spine and body while other muscles do the work of moving you.

Other muscles closer to the surface help with core stability and also help you move. These include:

Increasing your core stability strengthens all these muscles. It also helps you learn to use your inner muscles before you start to move—for example, tightening your stomach before you lift something.

Test Your Knowledge

Your inner core muscles work mainly to move your body.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    Your inner core muscles act mostly to support your spine and body while other muscles do the work of moving you.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    Your inner core muscles act mostly to support your spine and body while other muscles do the work of moving you.

  •  

Continue to Why?

 

The benefits of strengthening your core muscles may include:

  • The strong, healthy feeling that comes from good posture.
  • Confidence from strength and good balance.
  • More strength and power for your activities.
  • Less chance of injury.
  • Decrease in, or prevention of, low back pain.

Test Your Knowledge

Core stability exercise may:

  • Improve your posture.
    All of these answers are correct.

    Strong trunk muscles help support your spine to improve your posture. Good posture means that when you are standing, your ears, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles all line up. Core stability can also improve your balance and help protect you from injury.

  • Improve your balance.
    All of these answers are correct.

    Good balance means you can constantly adjust to your body's normal movements and to unexpected movements such as when you trip or bump into something. Increasing your core stability strengthens and trains the inner core muscles of your trunk so you can make these adjustments better and improve your balance. Core stability can also improve your posture and help protect you from injury.

  • Help protect you from injury.
    All of these answers are correct.

    Core stability helps you stay balanced and smoothly transfer weight and forces of movement from one body part to another as you move. This smooth, coordinated movement helps protect you from injury. Core stability can also improve your posture and balance.

  •  

Continue to How?

 

Core stability exercises are easy to do. It's more important that you do them well than that you do a lot of them. That's why it's a good idea to have a physical therapist check to be sure you have learned to use the right muscles and breathe normally while you do the exercises.

When you do any core stability exercise, it's important to make sure:

  • You are breathing right. When you exercise, you should breathe mostly with your diaphragm, the large muscle that helps move air in and out of your lungs. To learn to breathe with your diaphragm:
    1. Lie down on your back and put your hand on your stomach.
    2. When you breathe in and out, your hand should move up and down. Notice how it feels to breathe this way.
    3. When you start to exercise, try to get the same feeling of your chest and belly moving in and out as you breathe, rather than your chest and shoulders moving up toward your neck and back down.
  • You find your neutral spine. Neutral spine is the name for posture that maintains the three normal curves in your spine—one in your neck, one in your upper back, and one in your lower back. Your spine should be in this neutral position when you do core stability exercises. It may seem more relaxing to let yourself slump down. But when you lose the normal curves of a neutral spine, you actually put more stress on your body. To find your neutral spine:
    1. Stand in front of a mirror with your hands on your hips. Allow your low back to arch so your stomach juts forward, and your buttocks stick out. Notice how your hands rotate forward.
    2. Tighten the muscles around your stomach and buttocks so your low back becomes very flat. Notice how your hands rotate backward.
    3. Now go halfway between the forward and back positions.
    4. Keeping your pelvis in this neutral position, stand tall with your ears and shoulders lined up over your hips.
    5. Practice finding this neutral spine in three positions: standing, sitting, and lying on your back with your knees bent. When you can do that, you can maintain good posture for daily activities and for exercise.

Two simple exercises to try

Pulling your belly in

You can do this exercise anywhere, in any position. Try it while you work at your desk, drive, or stand waiting for your turn at the drugstore.

  1. Pull in your belly and imagine pulling your belly button back toward your spine. Remember to keep your neutral spine while you do this—don't let your back bend forward.
  2. Hold this for about 6 seconds. Remember to keep breathing normally.
  3. Rest for up to 10 seconds.
  4. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
Floor bridge
  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Find your neutral spine position, and hold it during the exercise. Pull in your belly, as in the exercise above.
  2. Push with your feet and raise your buttocks up a few inches.
  3. Hold about 6 seconds. Remember to breathe normally.
  4. Lower yourself slowly to the floor and rest for up to 10 seconds.
  5. Repeat 8 to 12 times.

After you have mastered these simple exercises, your physical therapist can help you find more challenging ways to work on your trunk muscles. For example, you might do some activities while standing up, then do the same activities while sitting on a large ball called a Swiss ball. The ball makes it harder for you to keep your balance as you do the activity.

Test Your Knowledge

One goal of core stability exercises is to learn to contract the inner core muscles while you keep breathing normally.

  • True
    This answer is correct.

    You want to be able to contract your core muscles while you are doing activities, so it's important to be able to keep breathing normally at the same time.

  • False
    This answer is incorrect.

    You want to be able to contract your core muscles while you are doing activities, so it's important to be able to keep breathing normally at the same time.

  •  

It's important to do many repetitions of core stability exercises.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    The quality of your core stability exercises is most important. That means it's better to be in the right position and learn to contract your core muscles while you breathe normally, rather than do a lot of repeated exercises.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    The quality of your core stability exercises is most important. That means it's better to be in the right position and learn to contract your core muscles while you breathe normally, rather than do a lot of repeated exercises.

  •  

You must use special equipment for core stability exercises.

  • True
    This answer is incorrect.

    The first core stability exercises you learn require no equipment at all. Later, you may use an inflatable ball called a Swiss ball or other simple equipment.

  • False
    This answer is correct.

    The first core stability exercises you learn require no equipment at all. Later, you may use an inflatable ball called a Swiss ball or other simple equipment.

  •  

Continue to Where?

 

Now that you have learned why a stable core is so important, you are ready to start building your trunk stability. If you would like to learn more, talk to a physical therapist. Many health and exercise facilities have therapists or instructors who can help you.

Increasing core stability may be helpful for health conditions such as those discussed in these topics:

Return to topic:

References

Other Works Consulted

  • Dillin W, et al. (2010). Thoracolumbar spine injuries in the adult. In JC DeLee et al., eds., DeLee and Drez's Orthopaedic Sports Medicine, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 714–753. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
  • Leetun DT, et al. (2004). Core stability measures as risk factors for lower extremity injury in athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 36(6): 926–934.
  • Marshall PW, et al. (2005). Core stability exercises on and off a Swiss ball. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 86(2): 242–249.
  • Negrini S, et al. (2010). Rehabilitation of lumbar spine disorders: An evidence-based clinical practice approach. In WR Frontera et al., eds., DeLisa's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation: Principles and Practice, 5th ed., vol. 1, pp. 837–882. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Joan Rigg, PT, OCS - Physical Therapy
Last Revised March 7, 2013

Last Revised: March 7, 2013

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