Many exercise and treatment methods place a large emphasis on having a very flexible or mobile spine. While this may be appropriate for a select few, the majority of people would benefit from a focus on stability first.
Core training, abdominal training, and core stiffness and stability are all essential components for pain control, performance enhancement, and injury resilience.
This “core” training, however, is usually done in the same way that one trains the rest of the body. Similar to a bicep curl, people train the abdominals by moving through sit-ups or twisting motions, for example. However, evidence suggests that the way that the spine and torso are structured bias towards a function of stability, i.e. the structures are designed to stop or resist motion!
If you watch elite athletes perform, you will notice that their movement is coming from the limbs – mostly in the shoulders and hips – while the spine stays still so that the force/power is not lost through spine motion. This concept is described as proximal stability leading to distal athleticism.
When it comes to people who experience back pain or have suffered injury to their spine, it is often small movements of structures in the spine that cause pain and sensitivity. Training the “core” using the principles of stiffness or stability, these micromovements can be minimised and controlled, resulting in less pain. In some people, this may progress to adding mobility of the spine but most will not require this.
An interesting concept…
We require two contradicting functions of the spine:
1. The ability to bend and be mobile
2. The ability to bear load
An interesting comparison that has been made is that of a fishing rod (see below):
If you just stood a fishing rod vertically and pushed from the top, the rod would bend. If, however, you tied ropes on all sides of the fishing rod and secured it, it would be able to sustain load without bending.
The muscles of the core function like these ropes; all aspects (back, side and front) need to be co-contracted in order to stabilise the spine so that it can safely bear load.
This is why we advise to keep the spine in its “neutral” position with appropriate contraction of surrounding torso muscles, particularly when carrying something heavy or doing strenuous activity.