For years now ‘core stability’ has been the buzz word of the fitness industry. We witnessed the finest athletes in the world at the Beijing Olympics talking about how they credit their improved performance to ‘core stability training’. Personal trainers and athletics’ coaches up and down the country are all busy working out core stability exercise programmes for their clients on fit balls and in Pilates classes and this is all good stuff but what are they actually trying to stabilize?
The ‘core’ refers to the band of muscle that wraps around the middle of the body called the Transversus Abdominis often referred to simply as the TAs. This is a very strong dynamic muscle that acts like a cylinder, surrounding and stabilising the Lumbar spine as it moves. It controls small movements between each vertebrae and when the spine is in rotation. Underneath the TAs and closer to the spine lie the deep stabilising muscles when these muscle work together the spinal column stiffens to stabilise the spine. The core muscles are never static or stable they are always working and adjusting depending on our movements. It is the spinal column that becomes ‘stable’ through the activation of the ‘core’ muscles.
Research has shown that when the TA is dysfunctional this leads to low back pain. The TA is responsible for stiffening and therefore protecting the lumbar spine. When the Central Nervous System sends out a signal that the body is about to move the TA reacts pre-emptively causing it to increase its contractile forces a fraction of a second before the movement. This ‘feed forward’ pattern is not evident or delayed in people with back pain which allows force to be transferred to the spine without the necessary ‘stabilisation’ having taken place. People with low back pain will then use other muscles such as the thighs and bottom to substitute for the delayed recruitment of the deeper lying local stabilising muscles.
What you can do to protect your lower back is remember to recruit the TA s before a movement activity is performed. This helps to set up good patterns of muscle recruitment for future activity. Working with lighter weights is also a good way of concentrating on recruiting the deeper stabilising muscles to perform slow controlled movements. This has the desired effect of building ‘core endurance’ so that these muscles function more efficiently and at the same time ‘stabilise the spine’. For your guide to activating the Transverse Abdominis please email: [email protected]