Long gone are the days when you can just turn up to participate in a sport to a high level and expect to perform well consistently. There are many different aspects that have to be considered these days. For example, physical preparation, mental preparation, equipment, nutrition, coaches etc.
The area that has made the greatest difference for most athletes is the fitness side of their sport, so these blogs are going to focus on what is the foundation not only for skiing but all sports, CORE STABILITY. It should not be forgotten that core stability is a segment of a training programme and will not improve performance alone but when included into an effective training programme improvements will be seen.
“Core stability is the effective recruitment of the trunk muscles and shoulder girdle to help stabilise the spine. Allowing the limbs to move freely.” The complete guide to core stability – Matt Lawrence
The trunk and lower torso is 50% of our bodies total mass and is the power centre of the body, essential for maintaining the bodies stability when performing most physical tasks including skiing. The abdominals provide internal pressure that supports the spine, maintaining the stability necessary to stand erect while decreasing lower back stress. The core muscles also assist in breathing during exercise and sports performance. As we consider the importance of these muscles not only to achieve maximum performance at our respective sports but to perform every day tasks, the significance of core strength/stability training in unrivalled.
Due to a change in lifestyles people do not recruit and use these muscles as much, if at all, in everyday life so core stability has to be included in our training regimes. It is very important for an athlete to understand the exercises available to achieve this and be confident in their kinaesthetic awareness to gain the most from this training tool. There are many training programmes and tools to aid in this, therefor this series of blogs aims to highlight some of the main areas that these training techniques can be used for and to what benefits.
What is core Stability?
The Stabiliser are supporting muscles with many roles in relation to stability, posture and specific movement. The spine, a very important part in our anatomy that is protected by the muscles strengthened in a core work out, has a natural S shape to it. This shaping allows for the absorption of impact, for example landing an aerial or a run through the bumps: the core of muscles, stabilisers, that we are stengthening and educating will help to keep the spine in this natural or neutral position whilst we are performing. These muscles are often divided into two categories, the inner and outer muscle groups.
The inner core muscles are the:
- Transverse abdominus
- Posterior fibres of the internal obliques
- Pelvic floor muscles
The transverse abdominal is the deepest, inner most layer of all the abdominal muscles. When the transverse abdominals contract it creates hoop tension around your midsection like a corset or girdle. This girdle effect allows the inner unit to perform its primary role of the stabilisation of the spine and pelvis. This stability is needed to provide the large prime movers of the body with an effective working platform.
Thracolumbar Fascia and Inner unit
The Mutlifidus muscle as seen above, plays a part in the girdle but most importantly works to provide joint stabilisation. This muscle lies deep in the spine spanning three joint segments, as shown in the following diagram.
The joint stabilisation happens at each segmental level, each vertebrae needs stiffness and stability to work effectively to reduce degeneration of joint structures.
The pelvic floor muscles span the underneath area of the pelvis as seen on diagram two above. It is important for the pelvic floor muscles and inner core muscles to work efficiently together. The pelvic floor muscles form part of the abdominal cavity and therefore play an important role in maintaining intra-abdominal pressure. This pressure plays a key role in core stabilisation.
The outer unit
The outer unit of muscles include:
- Spinal Erectors
- External obliques
- Internal obliques
- Rectus Abdominus
- Gluteus Maximus
These muscles as a group, are the prime movers of the core and extremities – their primary role being to initiate movement although they do still have a stabilisation role to play. They are sometimes referred to as the outer core or the ‘global muscles’.
The external oblique muscles creates rotation of the trunk or in skiing terms controls rotation rotation of the trunk. It also assists in lateral flexion of the spine and together with the internal oblique, helps stabilise the spine from lateral forces. These muscles work in opposition to each other.
The Spinal erectors help to extend the spine and support it during flexion activities such as bending forwards and backwards. They are powerful muscles with low endurance, therefore they need to be used efficiently to prevent weakening.
Rectus Abdominus, the muscle that is most commonly know and included in our exercise programmes, is responsible for creating the six pack effect. Their main function is trunk flexion, as when performing a sit up. The rectus abdominus mainly consists of fast twitch muscle fibres, something that should be considered when planning its inclusion into our core strength programme.
When working with core strength and stability it is very important to incorporate all the muscles not just those on the outer girdle, muscles such as the internal obliques are just as important as the rectus abdominus. An imbalance in the strength of all our stabiliser muscles can result in bad posture, decreased performance or injury.
The outer muscles are more commonly exercised and are predominantly responsible for movement whilst the inner girdle, which is often neglected, is primarily responsible for stability.
The core is not only the muscles that have been described but also the pelvic and shoulder girdles, which are responsible for transferring the forces of the arms and legs to the spine. The shoulder girdle is made up of the collar bones and shoulder blades which provide an anchor for the arms movements through muscular attachments to the mid back. The pelvic girdle functions in a similar manner, with the abdominal and gluteal muscles working to maintain its position relative to the spine. This allows the pelvis to provide a stable base for the legs to pull from. As is clear from this quick explanation, the pelvic and shoulder girdles play a vital role in core stability and strength. However the focus of this series of blogs will be on improving muscular strength and stability rather than the role the pelvic and should girdles play in this. Although the girdles will not be a focus they should not be forgotten as they are integral to successfully strengthening our core muscles.
Core strength and stability has many benefits in both sporting performances and everyday life. For the purpose of the next few blogs we will be looking at how it can benefit skiers at all levels. The following blogs will outline some of these benefits and aim to discuss some of the advantages to alpine skiers associated with training core stability.