Build a Resilient Spine: Lock Down Core Stability

Matthew Ibrahim

Coach

Strength Training, Mobility & Recovery

Everything starts at the core. Your abs, obliques, and lower back muscles have to be working during all forms of movement in order to transfer energy and create forces.

 

This means your midsection needs to be functioning properly with sound technique and mechanics during exercise. Sure, you want to lift heavy weights and train hard, but possessing the ability to move well with good form should be your first priority.

 

 

Establishing spinal stiffness and core stability is the first step you need to take before getting to this point. Once you’ve mastered those areas, your next mission will be to add movement to your stable foundation, otherwise known as your core.

 

Strenthen your core to protect your back.

Energy is transferred through your core when lifting heavy. Ensure that your midsection is rock solid with these core-stabalizing exercises.

 

Sensory Input for Optimal Movement Output

These exercises will challenge the core by moving one arm or leg. This provides an increased stimulus for the spine and surrounding musculature to help stabilize. It’s kind of like that annoying kid who sits next to you in class and just wouldn’t shut up while you were trying to pay attention. Annoying? Yes. Effective? Highly.

 

When you challenge the core by moving one arm or one leg, you’re asking your muscles to fire at a higher rate to keep you in a stable position. This won’t be easy, but it will have a direct carryover into your bigger lifts and exercises when the stabilization demand is needed.

 

You’ll also use tools such as manual perturbations and resistance bands to get the job done. No need for fancy or gimmicky training tools here – keep it simple. What you’re looking for is sensory input to provide proper movement output.

 

That’s why using neuromuscular feedback and reactive neuromuscular training techniques are so important. Not only can they be used as corrective ways to groove a good pattern, but they can also be used to provide that sensory feedback the body needs to correct itself.

 

It Starts With Breathing

No, I’m not going to advise you to spend sixty minutes on breathing. Not only is that a time dump, it’s not what we came here to do, which is train and move weight.

 

Most people miss the boat big time with respect to proper breathing patterns. My approach is super simple, per usual. Take the things you’re already doing in your training, and simply add basic breathing patterns to those.

 

As a bonus, proper breathing during training allows you to feel more tension and stability in your mid-section with 360 degrees of expansion. This will make the weight and resistance will seem much easier to move. You can thank me later.

 

These four exercises will help you build stability during movement:

 

  1. RKC plank with alternating 1-arm reach
  2. Side plank with breathing
  3. Bird-dog reactive neuromuscular training with band
  4. In-line half-kneeling chop

 

Continue for Video Demonstration of the RKC Plank With Alternating 1-Arm Reach

 

 

RKC Plank With Alternating 1-Arm Reach

The spine was designed to stabilize in response to stimuli. Have you ever slipped off a street curb and lost your balance, only to catch yourself by landing properly? You were able to regain balance because your spine and the surrounding musculature were resilient enough to adjust in time. That’s called “stability.”

 

By providing a challenge to the system, you will be able to force your spine to do its job: stabilize. It’s important to maintain proper positioning to ensure you don’t succumb to a faulty lumbar hyperextension pattern.

 

What we’re looking for in this exercise is for you to uphold the same core and spine position you’d see in an RKC plank (four points of contact), but with one caveat: when you reach one arm forward, you’ll only be working with three points of contact.

 

Do This:

  1. Extend your right arm out in front. Pause. Return your right arm back to the starting position.
  2. Repeat for the left arm.
  3. That equals 1 rep per side.
  4. Complete 8 reps per side for 1 set.
  5. Perform 3 sets.

 

 

Continue for Video Demonstration of the Side Plank With Breathing

 

 

Side Plank With Breathing

Dr. Charlie Weingroff says, “breathing is the keyhole to the nervous system.” Think about it for a second: when was the last time you monitored your breathing patterns for the primary purpose of seeing how efficient your movement was?

 

Faulty breathing patterns have a negative impact on movement patterns because they cause you to resort to high-tension compensatory strategies. Examples of these can be seen during what we would call “stressful” breathing through an increased tone in the upper traps and neck muscles. You can also see this during “rib flare” where the athlete is very top-heavy during their breathing without accessing their lower abdominals.

 

Own your breathing to own your movement. Check out this video here of the 90/90 Wall Breathing Drill to see what I mean.

 

 

Once you’ve mastered that, it’s now time to work that breathing component into the Side Plank exercise. When the position is locked in, place all of your focus on the breathing only. This will reinforce proper positioning throughout the duration of each set.

 

Do This:

  1. Starting on your left side, inhale through your nose, while filling up your belly.
  2. Exhale through your mouth, while attempting to put out a candle three feet in front of you.
  3. Continue for 30 seconds. That's 1 set on your left side.
  4. Repeat for 1 set on your right side.
  5. Perform a total of 3 sets per side.

 

 

 

Continue for Video Demonstration of the Bird-Dog RNT With Band

 

 

Bird-Dog Reactive Neuromuscular Training (RNT) With Band

Reactive neuromuscular training, or RNT, is a fancy way of saying that we’re going to feed your body into a bad position, and in the process allow the nervous system to work with your body to move into a good position. It’s another way of feeding the negative to produce a positive.

 

RNT allows us to re-educate proper patterns in the body. It can be used as a guide in a safe situation to teach the body where it needs to be for optimal positioning. The Bird-Dog exercise is a great start, but adding the resistance band helps athletes actually “feel” it much more, which ultimately decreases the level of difficulty for the exercise.

 

Do This:

  1. Loop band around right hand and left foot.
  2. Extend right arm and left leg simultaneously.
  3. Bring both limbs back to the starting position. That's 1 rep.
  4. Complete 8 reps in that fashion.
  5. Switch sides and repeat for 8 reps. That's 1 set.
  6. Perform a total of 3 sets per side.

 

 

Continue for Video Demonstration of the In-Line Half-Kneeling Chop

 

 

In-Line Half-Kneeling Chop

Holding a rock-solid position with your core engaged is not easy. Adding upper extremity movement while still maintaining this locked-in position is an even greater challenge.

 

The In-Line Half-Kneeling Chop exercise gives the athlete constant feedback in terms of proper positioning, core activation, and spinal stability. It’s impossible to complete this drill the right way without good form.

 

Being able to maintain the narrow in-line position is your first order of business. Remember: own this position and keep it owned for the entire duration of each set. The next step is to add in your upper extremity chop pattern. Take your time with this one, and be sure to constantly check in on core and glute activation.

 

Do This:

  1. With your right knee up (closest to the pulley) and your left knee down (furthest from the pulley), chop the rope attachment down toward your left pocket.
  2. Complete 8 reps on that side.
  3. Switch sides and repeat. That's 1 set.
  4. Perform 3 sets per side.

 

 

Stoke the Fire

Once you’ve locked down stability in your core, it’s time to add movement. Basically, you’re trying to piss off your core by adding another stimulus to it. Not only is this a surefire way to build a stronger core, it’s also a quick route to a more resilient lower back and spine.

 

Keep Challenging Your Core:

 

Headline photo courtesy of CrossFit, Inc.

Photo collage courtesy of Matthew Ibrahim.

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