21 Dec 2008
What is Core Stability?
You’ve probably heard the latest buzz words ‘core stability’ when talking about off-ice training, but do you know what core stability means? Why is it so important for figure skaters to have? What is the proper way to achieve core stability? These questions and more can be answered in this article.
The definition of core stability is ‘the bodily region bounded by the abdominal wall, the pelvis, the lower back, and the diaphragm and its ability to stabilize the body during movement.’ Muscles involved in this stabilization include the rectus abdominus, the transverse abdominus, the obliques, the diaphragm, and the quadratus lumborum. They work in conjunction with one another to create a compressive force to the surrounding structures to protect the body cavity from strain during excessive movement.
When we move, the muscles that contract first to stabilize the body are the core muscles, even though we do not consciously think to contract them. The core reacts to transfer force and power from the ground across the body. Without proper stability, these forces may be transferred unevenly, and injury may occur. Think of how many times per day you bend over to pick up an object, reach and stretch into a cabinet, remove something off of a high shelf, or move quickly to avoid a fall. With each of these everyday tasks, the core activates and allows us to perform these tasks correctly. The core is active in every weight transfer or weight shift, quick turn, or forward bend that we make. With weak core muscles, we might fall over!
The spine makes a slight double S curve, with the curvatures’ apexes balancing each other to create a solid postural alignment. In the lumbar spine, or lower back region, the abdominal and back muscles work on opposite sides of the spine to maintain a proper curvature and upright posture. The abdominals span the length of the stomach and protect the visceral organs anterior to the spine. Great strength is needed for this protection, or the weight of the organs and the stomach may cause a lordotic posturing of the lumbar spine. This posture occurs when the spine forms an excessive curvature., causing compression of the lower lumbar vertebrae and tightening of the lumbar paraspinal muscles. By strengthening the core, these issues may be avoided and postural alignment can be maintained or improved.
In the sport of figure skating, both posture and stability are necessary to complete demanding moves while creating an appealing line on the ice. With each jump takeoff, and incredible amount of core strength is needed as the forces of the blade on the ice, the centrifugal force of rotation, and the movement forces of the lower and upper extremities challenge the body’s balance. To achieve tightness in the air, the core contracts to allow the legs and arms to tighten around the body. Then, upon landing, core strength is needed to again to transfer the force of the body on the ice through the body, to maintain an erect and balanced landing, and to resist the last amount of rotational force to control an appropriate edge.
There are many exercises that can improve core stability, and they have evolved from the traditional crunch or sit up. The use of physioballs, balance discs, foam rolls, and sport cords are necessary to challenge a skaters’ rotational and linear stability. Equipment that challenges your balance activates the core much more than an exercise performed on solid ground.
*All levels of core exercises are included in Sk8Strong DVDs.
Lauren Downes, MSPT