Improving her core strength and stability

Integration of Core Stability in Promoting Functional Gains

The core is the most integral component for building full body functional movement patterns. The terms ‘core’ and ‘stability’ are tossed around in our health and fitness world and the meanings are sometimes misconstrued. For starters, you can imagine the true deep ‘core’ as four muscles forming a canister around the thorax. The core is bordered superiorly (on top) by the diaphragm, anteriorly (front) by the transverse abdominis, inferiorly (on the bottom) by the pelvic floor, and lastly posteriorly (back side) by the multifidus. Although it might sound like I completely made up a few of these muscles, that is because they are some of the deepest muscles lying in this region and sometimes go unmentioned. Regardless we must all appreciate the functions each of these muscles have and how recruiting them appropriately will improve your quality of movement while reducing the likelihood of injury. According to the Panjabi Model there are 3 contributing factors to spinal stability as shown below.

Although I will be discussing more of the active subsystem or musculature involved in this interaction, it should be noted that our passive spinal column and neuromuscular components should ultimately be addressed to optimally ensure this desired spinal stability.

Lumbar Multifidus

This muscle was originally thought to have had some function in producing lumbar extension but more recent studies have suggested a strong stabilizing role. Being composed primarily of type I or tonic muscle fibers we hypothesize that there is more of a postural role being played (Sirca & Kostevc, 1985). Aside from helping control the spine in its neutral zone, the lumbar multifidus tensions the thoracolumbar fascia further stabilizing the core and spine.

Transverse Abdominis (TrA)

The TrA is the deepest abdominal muscle with fibers that run horizontally. This muscle is unique because it has a feed-forward loop in which it naturally fires to stabilize the spine prior to any body movement. For example every time you are bringing an arm overhead to stroke while paddling on a surfboard the TrA is firing to stabilize the spine. Over time if we practice compensatory movement patterns such as allowing our global muscles (rectus abdominis and obliques) to “over fire” we can lose the ability to recruit TrA and in turn lose some of our stability. As neuroscience research has indicated those movement patterns that we do not use, we lose (Kleim, 2008). Therefore it is crucial to re-train our TrA to function optimally to promote a healthy spine.

Pelvic Floor

Although it is an easily undermined area of focus, the pelvic floor muscles play an integral role in promoting core stability. These muscles resist increases in intra-abdominal pressure, which helps our core manage more complex movement patterns where many muscles are firing at once. Whether we recognize it or not, these muscles of the pelvic floor are contracting countless times throughout our day and when facilitated in conjugation with the TA, multifidus, and diaphragm can help keep the spine in its most stable position (neutral zone).


Aside from its vital role of managing our breathing, the diaphragm is the largest contributor to our spinal stability through intra-abdominal pressure. According to Hodges et al. 1997, this muscle is needed to prevent displacement of abdominal viscera so that the TrA can increase its tension. This is important for our understanding moving forward as we should practice appropriate breathing techniques while exercising to further strengthen this muscle.

These muscular components discussed above can help improve spinal stability by incorporating simple exercises to your workouts. In most cases minor adjustments can be made to exercise technique to promote further recruitment of these local stabilizing muscles.

  • Prior to participating in sport activities, ask yourself if your body is as prepared as it should be and…
  • If you have already experienced some back discomfort consider how you can modify your training to focus on complete core stability to better prepare you to prevent injury.

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