So the title of this article may confuse some of you since I did not use the term “core”. Why not? Well because people don’t really know what the core is, particularly since the standard American fitness (“SAF”) definition of core is simply the abdominal muscles you can see (6-pack baby). In contrast to that, today I have decided to write about the “core” in relation to lumbar spinal stabilization.
Is the combination of all the muscles involved in the stabilization of your lumbar spine during movement or applied force. This includes hip and pelvic musculature as well as the superficial and deep muscles from your belly button all the way around to your spine. I will not list all of the involved muscles as you do not have time in your busy day to read the length of such a list. I am also not including muscles higher in the vertebral column which provide further level of spinal stability.
Muscles are also not there to act independently of each other; they co-contract and contract at different times, based on different movement patterns, to produce a required level of spinal stabilization. Basically what I am saying here is that to produce a proper amount of spinal stabilization, you cannot simply contract your transverse abdominis and expect to be able to support any amount of weight during a lift or dynamic movement. What is required is a co-contraction of all your abdominal and spinal musculature to produce proper spinal stabilization; this is similar to what powerlifters and Olympic lifters do. In general, abdominal bracing relates to increased spinal stabilization thru increased abdominal cavity pressure; thereby, decreasing translation in the spinal column. Basically, it reduces movement in your spine that could cause injury during exercises.
What I have alluded to above is 2 types of lumbar spinal stabilization techniques. One is called an abdominal hollow, and the other one is called an abdominal brace. Below I will describe what each of these techniques involves, and which one will be best to use for active movement.
Technique #1 Abdominal Hollow
Most of you are familiar with this and it involves bringing your belly button to your spine. A common cue to properly do this is when you are lying on your back, push your low back to the floor and pull the belly button to the spine (into your abdomen).
Technique #2 Abdominal Brace
This involves the co-contraction of all of your core musculature (deep and superficial abdominal muscles as well as the musculature of the back) without a movement of the belly button towards the spine. A cue for this is to imagine that someone is about to punch you in the stomach, that is ultimately what an abdominal brace should feel like. As mentioned, this is similar to the bracing method used by olympic and power lifters.
What Technique is Best?
There has been experimental evidence to support the effectiveness of the abdominal hollow, mostly related to injury recovery; however, most of the recent evidence (1, 2, 3) supports technique 2 for being the best at creating spinal stability and protecting the spinal column from inappropriate movement during different types of perturbations.
Therefore, when performing any type of weight bearing or “core” exercise I will continue to utilize the abdominal brace technique. Using this properly becomes increasingly important as the spinal stabilization requirements of the exercise increases. For example, a body weight squat would require less stability than an overhead squat with 100lbs. Therefore a different level of abdominal tension or contraction is required. However, this is not to say that the abdominal hollow is not an appropriate technique for certain situations, but I would reserve this simply for activation type exercises where someone would be learning how to properly activate their deep abdominal muscles. Say after an injury or at the very beginning of a program for a super sedentary person who has never done any physical activity.
Golf Swing – Dynamic Motion
So you might be thinking to yourself – well how would I stabilize my spine during my golf swing, or slap shot, or baseball swing, or baseball throw for that matter? Honestly, it is a very good question, and the answer is based on the interplay of stability and mobility. When we get into dynamic motions in which optimal performance is dependent on mobility, a fully contracted abdominal brace will decrease mobility, and thus performance. Therefore, there has to be a balance of stability and mobility to create optimal performance. Interestingly, what is seen in experimental studies is that when someone is performing an abdominal brace for a non-dynamic (non-twisting) movement, all “core’ muscle are activated simultaneously. But on the other hand, when someone is performing a dynamic throwing exercise, what is seen is different onset time of “core’ muscles to allow for a balance of stability and mobility (4).
At the end of the day, for our golf swing, I would suggest that as you are set in your address position you perform a partial abdominal brace prior to beginning your swing. Thus you will create a level of stability while still allowing full mobility to be achieved. Thought – as everyone is different, the amount of brace you perform must be based on what you feel comfortable with and that which produces the best results for you.
The Barefoot Golfer