Recent research (e.g., Willardson, 2007) highlights the numerous benefits of core stability training for a variety of outcomes. A strong core region takes pressure off the lumbar spine and can prevent injury to the lower back. Core stability training is becoming increasingly popular in sports conditioning programs as well, as it can improve the transfer of force between the upper and lower body. Core stability can also promote better balance, and physical therapists and fitness professionals utilize this mode of training to improve proprioception in those who have balance issues. The more you work on your core now, the less likely you are to experience lower back and balance problems in later years. Core stability training can take different shapes and forms, but all should ultimately be incorporated into a well-rounded fitness program.
Remember that core stability training is not the same as performing crunches or other traditional abdominal exercises. While these exercises are effective for improving abdominal strength, they do not improve stability in the lumbopelvic region of the body to the extent of specific ore stability exercises.
Free Weight Core Stability Training
This form of core stability training is performed on stable surfaces with the intention of increasing core strength and power. These exercises are simple and can be performed by just about anyone.
Examples of classic core stability exercises include the plank, side plank, bridge, and superman. Another great core stability exercise is the overhead press, as the muscles of the rectus abdominus must remain activities to maintain posture while the weight is supported overhead.
Perform these classic exercises unilaterally (using only one side of your body) to further improve the core stability effects. For example, perform a one-hand overhead press while standing on one foot.
Unstable Surface Core Stability Training
These exercises are performed on balance boards or air discs. Research has demonstrated higher core muscle activity when performing core exercises on unstable surfaces, as motor units within the smaller, stabilizer muscles must engage to not only lift weight, but maintain posture.
You can turn just about any traditional free weight exercise into a core stability exercise by using an unstable surface. For example, perform biceps curls or shoulder extensions on air discs to engage the core region. The BOSU balance trainer is also a highly effective device for improving core stability. Perform the plank with your feet and hands on air discs to increase the physical demand and core requirements of this exercise.
Swiss Ball Exercises
The Swiss ball is another too that forces the core muscles to activate at a higher rate to maintain spinal posture throughout any exercise. According to Cosio-Lima and colleagues (2003), using a Swiss ball to perform classic free weight exercises results in significantly greater activation of the core musculature.
As with air discs and the BOSU balance trainer, perform the plank, side plank, or overhead press on a Swiss ball. Try maintaining balance on the Swiss ball with your feet off the ground, and then perform shoulder presses, curls, and chest presses to promote core stability.
Medicine Ball Passes
A lesser-used strategy for enhancing core stability is to perform medicine ball throws. You will need a partner to perform many of these exercises, but you can also throw the ball against the wall.
Try the classic medicine ball twist exercise by sitting on the floor with your feet crossed and slightly off the ground. Holding the medicine ball, twist from side to side so you feel a workout in your abdominal muscles. For increased activation of the core musculature, perform this exercise on a Swiss ball (make sure to have your partner help balance the ball). Additional medicine ball exercises include kneeling passes and one leg twist passes, which can be performed on a Swiss ball or suing balance discs as well.