The Core should be firm...but flexible
Bracing of the abdominals is being promoted as the optimal core concept. Bracing involves tensing the abdominal muscles as if preparing for being punched in the stomach. The idea is to learn to tense all the muscles around the abdominal cavity to prevent movement of the lumbar spine. Apart from the abdominals the back and Gluteal muscles are also recruited to create a state of “Super-stiffness”.
Abdominal bracing and Super-stiffness and are not functional patterns because:
- A too early or too forceful contraction of the abdominal wall prevents the diaphragm from descending into the abdominal cavity when contracting and is therefore counterproductive to proper core stabilization.
- Most athletes have to be very mobile and flexible yet be able to support their spine. Looking at these different examples it is hard to imagine them performing their sport well with a stiff braced midsection.
Functional core stabilization has to allow for fast and smooth movements when required and yet provide increased stability when necessary.
Proper functional core stabilization is provided by a functional diaphragm contraction. Learning to control the breathing pattern is crucial for core stabilization from the inside out.
Facts about the diaphragm:
- The diaphragm is under voluntary control.
- The diaphragm can perform its stabilization task independent of breathing
- The diaphragm can perform its breathing function at a lowered position to be able to provide spinal support while still breathing
- The diaphragm does not work as one homogenous muscle, but has in reality four different parts that can contract independently of each other.
- The position of the diaphragm determines the quality of its contraction.
Proper core stabilization is achieved by a functional diaphragm contraction working against an eccentric contraction of the abdominal wall and the pelvic floor. This creates an increased intra-abdominal pressure which supports the lumbar spine from the front.
The core stabilization created by an increased intra-abdominal pressure can be described like a firm plasticine ball, which is firm but flexible to allow for movements.
Pavel Kolar’s DNS program uses a flexible ball description which well illustrates a flexible core.
Core stabilization is not a maximal muscle contraction of the abdominal wall but an increased pressure created from the inside through the diaphragm.
Imagine a dial where 0 represents no core stabilization and 3 would be the level of small yet sufficient stabilization provided by proper diaphragm function. At level 3 movements would be un-restricted, but the system is fully activated so whenever required, like in the second before taking a big tackle, an increased contraction of the diaphragm would allow the core-stabilization to increase in a snap. Maximum contraction would minimize the mobility but is necessary when optimal stabilization is called for example during a heavy lift.