Core stability and its importance to running



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Core stability and its importance to running

During my first year of seeing athletes in my private practice I have found out the majority do not know what core stability is or its importance in relation to running as evidence shows it can improve your posture, running economy and prevent injury occurrence.


This article will explain the muscles involved in core stability and their role. I have included a step nine introduction to core stability, which is worth trying to understand how to contract the right muscles, which will then lead onto a program I have designed.

Running Injuries and Repetitive Motion

Running injuries are commonly attributed to faulty biomechanics and errors in training methods.

Faulty training techniques include:


  • The rapid build up of mileage

  • Running on worn-out shoes

  • Ignoring our body's messages and continuing to run through pain.

Although these important aspects of a running program should be addressed, runners should also consider the cumulative effect that thousand of repetitive motions have on their bodies.

Even with good biomechanics and excellent training, runners are always exposed to a considerable amount of cumulative trauma. It is advisable to be aware of preventative methods.



What is core stability?

The core of your body is where you derive your power; it provides the foundation for all arm and leg movements. Your core must be strong, flexible, and unimpeded in its movements to achieve maximum performance.



What muscles are involved in core stability?

Core stability is not just about strengthening your abdominals to show a six-pack. Most of the muscles are deep within your torso and start from the hip and go right up to the neck and shoulders. They connect the pelvis, spine and shoulders, when strong they can generate powerful movements with the arms and legs but when an imbalance occurs so can injury.

Multifidus – Is very deep muscle that runs from the neck (C3) to the lumbar spine (L5). Approximately two thirds of the static support in your back is produced through contraction of the Multifidus muscle.

Interspinales, Intertransversarii, and Rotatores – These are deep structures that attach directly to the spinal column. These are very important for rotatory motion and lateral stability.

Internal/External Obliques & Transversus Abdominis –These structures transmit a compressive force, and act to increase intra-abdominal pressure that stabilizes the lumbar spine.

Erector Spinae – These muscles help to balance all the forces involved in spinal flexion.

Quadratus Lumborum – This muscle stabilizes the 12th rib during respiration and laterally flexes the trunk.

Thoracolumbar Fascia – This area supplies tensile support to the lumbar spine, and are used for load transfer throughout the lumbar region.

Training for long hours does not guarantee that you have core stability. Spending too much time working within one plane of motion often creates core imbalances. Combined with stresses caused by poor posture during running and you have an equation for the development of a weak core.

Many athletes will do gym work to strengthen areas of weakness but the core is complex and works in many planes of movement. Unfortunately, many weight machines only work through one plane of motion (usually sagittal).



Imbalances

Optimum posture is based on the attainment of a balance between primary muscle movers and their opposing muscles. This is referred to as a force coupled relationship. Muscles act in opposition to each other to create a movement. An imbalance is created when one muscle group is overworked in comparison to its opposing structure.

Many athletes will perform sit up after sit up thinking of how they will benefit but what this is actually doing is shortening the stomach muscle by over working it and actually lengthening the opposing muscle which controls the movement and therefore opens the back up to injury. In a runner this can change running posture and decreases running economy.

Here are some examples of what a shortened rectus Abdominis (muscle when developed shows a six pack) can do to running economy

A shortened Rectus Abdominis will pull the runners posture forward. This causes a braking action that reduces running economy.

As the Rectus is shortened, it pulls the chest forward and pushes the head down. In order to look straight ahead, the athlete wastes a considerable amount of force in trying to overcome the contracted Rectus Abdominis.

As the shoulders move forward, a shortened Rectus Abdominis causes the arms to rotate internally. This makes keeping your arms relaxed at the recommended 90-degree angle much more difficult, again reducing running economy.

It is also worth saying that by changing the bodies posture (by muscle balance) and causing a forward posture, this can lead to lower limb injuries as you have to remember everything is interlinked so what happens in the core of the body can affect what the limbs are doing. The majority of athletes will more than likely have more than one slight imbalance.

Many athletes are unaware that they have any imbalances and have no symptoms. However for those that do, if the imbalances have been present for a while specific tissues that are restricted will need physically working back to its normal texture, tension, and length by using soft-tissue manipulation methods performed by a therapist.

What can you do?

This article is for you to understand the importance of core stability. It is to make you aware what core stability is and how to start training it through simple exercises. The exercises I have included are the basics to get you started as you get use to them progression is needed as you need to remember:

“Motion is not an isolated event that occurs in one direction. Body movement is a complex event involving agonists and antagonists structures that work together to create motion and to stabilize the body in all three directional planes.”

The basic movement that must be learned first before any other exercise can begin is called hollowing. Taken from: - http://www.cambsphysicaltherapy.co.uk/CoreStabilityExercises.rtf


Core Stability exercises – 9-step introduction
To achieve good core stability you must learn how to effectively co-contract the key muscles - the Transversus Abdominis & Multifidus muscles. To do this you need to be able to find your neutral position for the spine and pelvis.

This is best achieved by first finding out what the extreme opposites feel like. The neutral position can then be more easily found in the middle of these two extremes.


To do this, use the following method.
* Start by lying on your back with knees bent.

* Imagine a compass on your lower abdomen.

Your belly button is north

Your pubic bone is south

* Tilt your pelvis up northwards - doing this will:

Have caused your pelvis to tuck under

Flattened your back into the floor

Loose your low back curve

Tightened your 6 pack

Tailbone has lifted off the floor.


* Now do the opposite, tilt your pelvis down southwards

Your lower back becomes very arched

Your ribs have flared

Your stomach sticks out

* The neutral position is between these two extremes.

* The compass should now be like a spirit level, balanced between North and South

The pelvis is tilted neither north or south or tucked under

Nor is the back excessively arched

The tailbone remains down on the floor

The pelvis is lengthened not scrunched up

There is a small natural arch in the back

In this neutral position you can now learn to perform 'abdominal hollowing' which causes the co-contraction of the key muscles.



Step 1

Start by lying on your back with knees bent. Remember your lumbar spine should neither be arched up nor flattened against the floor; but aligned in the neutral position with only a small gap between the floor and you lower back.

* Breathe in deeply

* Relax all your stomach muscles.

* Breathe out and as you do so:

* Draw your lower abdomen inwards as if your belly button is going back towards the floor.


Think of the key muscles acting like a corset as you 'suck your belly button in'. Or think of scooping the lower abdomen back towards the spine. Alternatively think of struggling into a tight pair of jeans by sucking your belly in and zipping up.

Practise achieving this 'hollowing' action by holding the contraction for 10 seconds and repeating. During which you must


* Stay relaxed.

* Ensure you breathe in and out as normal.

* Hold the tension only in your lower abdomen.

* Repeat 5-10 times.

Sounds dead easy? Well maybe for some not so for others, particularly those with weak backs or those that have done loads of abdominal work. It is absolutely vital that you perform this abdominal hollowing correctly otherwise you will not recruit those all-important Transversus Abdominis & Multifidus muscles effectively.

Note the following guidelines:

* Do not let the whole stomach tense up or your upper abdominals bulge outwards lifting your rib cage, as this means you have cheated by using your large Rectus Abdominis muscle (the six-pack) instead of the Transversus Abdominis & Multifidus.
* Do not brace your Transversus Abdominis & Multifidus: just a gentle contraction is enough. Remember it is endurance not maximum strength you are trying to improve.
* Do not hold your breath, as this means you are not relaxed. You must learn to breathe normally and maintain the co-contraction of the Transversus Abdominis & Multifidus muscles.
You may find it useful to do the following at least initially:

* Place one hand under your lower back to ensure that you do not tilt you pelvis nor arch or flatten your back, as this means you have lost the neutral position you are trying to learn to stabilise.


* Use your fingers to feel for tension in your lower abdomen, which indicates tension in the Transversus Abdominis. Do this by placing your fingers and inch in towards your belly button from the bony protrusion of your pelvis and an inch down towards your groin.
Once you have mastered the abdominal hollowing, or zipping up, while lying on your back, practise it lying on your front, sitting and standing. Progress by holding the tension for longer. In each position ensure that your pelvis and therefore your lumbar spine is in the neutral position before you perform the hollowing movements. If you are finding this difficult try the following exercise:
Level 1: 4 Point Kneeling

Kneel on all fours, hands beneath shoulders and shoulder width apart.

Knees beneath hips.

Top of head lengthening away from the tailbone.

Pelvis and spine in the neutral position.

Relax and let the belly hang down.

Then draw the belly button up, hollowing the belly.

This should be a controlled contraction.

Progress by maintaining and holding the contraction for 10 seconds. Further progression by extending one arm out level with the ear. Repeat 30 times and using the other arm.
Once you find this very easy progress to the next level
Level 2 Bent Knee Fall Out
Lie on your back with your knees bent. Ensure your back is in neutral as described previously.

Breathe in and out performing abdominal hollowing as you do so - sucking the belly button in - control the contraction.

Continue breathing normally.

Put the fingers of one hand on to your pelvic bone.

Let one knee fall out to the side.

The pelvis must not move, feel for movement with the fingers

The knee should go half way to the floor.

Repeat 30 times each side.

Progress by holding the heel of the dropped knee 1" off the floor.
Level 3 Isometric Contractions

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Ensure your back is in neutral as described previously.

Breathe in and out performing abdominal hollowing as you do so - sucking the belly button in - control the contraction.

Place one hand on the knee on the same side.

Push the knee into the hand but do not let the knee move - isometric contraction.

Hold this contraction for 10 seconds.

Place the other hand beneath the lower back to check for pressure. Do not let the back arch or collapse, maintain abdominal hollowing. Repeat with the other leg.

Hip Flexion Control Level 4 - Level 9. This is a series of exercises that gets progressively more testing. You should only progress to the next level when you are sure you are not cheating and not in any discomfort.
Level 4

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Ensure your back is in neutral as described previously.

Breathe in and out performing abdominal hollowing as you do so - sucking the belly button in - control the contraction.

Place your hands as described above, one under your back checking for pressure and the other checking for tension in the lower abdomen. Breathe in and relax. Breathe out, and as you do so perform the abdominal hollowing - sucking up the belly button. This ensures that the Transversus Abdominis & Multifidus muscles have co-contracted first. One you have established some tension in these muscles, slowly lift one foot off the floor and bring towards the chest. Ensure that the knee is pointing towards the ceiling.

Maintain the lumbar spine in the neutral position throughout this movement otherwise you will not be training the core-stability muscles effectively. Repeat the exercise with the other leg, building up to 3 x 30 each leg.
Level 5

Start in the same position as level 4 but this time slide one leg out into extension keeping in contact with the floor until it is straight and then slide it back to the starting position. Repeat the exercise with the other leg, building up to 3 x 30 each leg.


Level 6

Repeat level 5 but this time raise one foot 1" off the floor and extend and return as in level 5 but keeping the foot off the floor during the exercise, building up to 3 x 30 each leg.


Level 7

Repeat level 6 but this time raise both feet 1" off the floor. But extend and return one foot only keeping both feet off the floor during the exercise, building up to 3 x 30 each leg.


Level 8

Proceed as in level 7 but this time alternate extending and returning each leg again with both feet off the floor, building up to 3 x 30 each leg


Level 9

Proceed as in level 8 but this time extend both the legs at the same time, building up to 3 x 30



By going through the 9-step introduction you will learn how to prepare your posture for the following core stability program, which includes 5 strengthening exercises and 5 stretches

Abdominal Hollowing is the preparation phase to all the exercises to be performed


Stretching exercises – hold each stretch for at least 10 seconds and perform 2-3 times
2) Lying supine – one knee to chest and repeat with other leg, then repeat taking both knees to chest. This can be further advanced to straight leg raise using a towel or belt.
3) Hip rotation – lying on your back, knees bent feet flat on the floor slowly drop knees to one side and then the other.
4) Basic lengthening – lying on your back arms above head stretch as long as you can
5) Childs Pose – stand and lunge backwards and make a bridge with your body on all fours then lower your bum towards your heels keeping your arms stretched out in front as far as you can, then return to bridge position and lunge forward and return to standing with arms stretched above head
6) Cat pose – position self on all fours curve spine upwards like a cat

Strengthening exercises – perform 1 set of 10 reps of each exercise and build up slowly to 2 sets
7) Superman pose – can be done lying face down or on all fours, stretching opposite arm to leg
8) Bridging – lying on floor perform pelvic tilt and abdominal push down first then raise bottom off floor, can be advanced to high platform or one leg.
9) Basic sit-up – pelvic tilt and abdominal push down with crunch at the end
10) Plank – facing the floor pelvic tilt and tighten abdominals raise self on to elbows and toes hold position keeping back straight and lengthening.
11) Pelvic tilt and abdominal push down can be used as a strengthening exercise by placing small towel or cushion under lower back and push into towel/cushion and hold for 5-10 seconds. The spine should flatten.
As you progress you may bring in aids like Swiss ball, foam rolls, wobble cushions.


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