Updated: Sep 5, 2021
Polers, aerialists and movers, I’m sure you already have some ideas about core and stability. We can almost guarantee you have worked on it at some point! Maybe you love it, aaaaand maybe you avoid it like the plague! There are a lot of myths and out-dated pieces of knowledge floating around about stability and core. By the end of this blog, you should have a better knowledge of the structure and function of the core, as well as stability in other areas of the body.
What is stability?
At a basic level (flips, kips and iron X aside!), it’s the ability to keep our joints in a controlled position with good contact between the joint surfaces. This means that whether we are stationary or moving through space, the joint is in a supported, safe and strong position. So how do we get this stability? There are two types of stability- active and passive- similar to our active and passive flexibility. Passive stability comes from our joints, ligaments, etc, and isn’t something we can control, BUT, active stability is! Active stability comes from our muscular control. While our passive stability keeps our joints more or less together, our muscles need to help our joints work with forces such as gravity and movement. If you want to improve your joint stability, training your active stabiliser muscles is where it’s at!
Movers vs Stabilisers So, which muscles can we use to stabilise our joints? Not all muscles have the same job description, so let’s break down which types of muscles were made to do what. Our mover muscles are bulkier, contract harder and fatigue faster. These are our power muscles! They often span two or more joints and they are closer to the surface. A good example of mover muscles are our lats. They’re great for pullups, but not so helpful for joint stability.
Our stabiliser muscles have a lot more finesse. They are smaller and deeper in the body, giving our joints a nice warm hug. Because they are closer to the joints, they do a much better job of protecting and controlling them. They are built to produce an appropriate, sustained contraction. If trained well, they should outlast our mover muscles. If they fatigue first, our movements and joints become less controlled and we are at greater risk of injury. We will be taking a closer look at these stabilising muscles in this blog. Of course we all know the core is a major stabilising muscle group, but there might be a few others you have heard of as well. Every joint has its own stabilising crew! How many of these examples have you heard of?
Scapular stabilisers and rotator cuff (shoulder)
Deep neck flexors
Hip cuff (deep hip rotators)
Foot intrinsic muscles
Just to name a few!
The Inner Core Unit (Aka ‘The Core’) The inner core is one of our most important stabiliser muscle teams. It is also one of the most misunderstood and miss-taught areas in fitness. There have been a lot of changes in recent years to our understanding of how our core works and how we should be training to get the most from it.
What muscles are in the core?
Deep abdominals (transverse abdominus- TrA- and internal obliques)
Deep spinal stabilisers (eg. multifidus)
That’s right! Abdominal muscles are only one of FOUR parts of the core. Note the six-pack (rectus abdominus) and our outer external obliques are NOT part of the core at all! The core can be imagined like a cute little circular cottage (very fairy-tale!) It is roughly cylinder in shape, complete with a floor and ceiling. Our deep abdominals wrap around our organs and spine to create the walls. They attach to each vertebra in our lumbar spine, so they have control over each level’s position. The floor of the cottage is our pelvic floor, which lines the inside of our pelvis. Our deep spinal stabilisers are like the support beams in the walls. Finally, our diaphragm is the ceiling.
“CORE FACT FILE”
Purpose: control the posture of our entire mid-section, including pelvis, ribs and spine.
Benefits: creates a base that our limbs can work from. Think like standing on a floating dock, trying to tie up a boat. Not so bad if it’s a calm day, but if it’s windy and the water is choppy, you’d much rather work from a fixed dock.
Breathing is a huge part of core function. If we hold our breath it means the core team isn’t working well together, and is a sign of inadequate control.
The core team doesn’t just keep the spine and pelvis still, but also has an important role in controlled spinal movement.
How to best use your core for stability The four parts of the core all need to do their part equally. Before leaping straight for the most difficult core exercise we can think of, it is important to recognise how we are using it. There are some steps to making sure your whole core is working optimally and it’s a good idea to do a quick self-check, even if you’ve been training for a while. Keep an eye out on our social medial through the week, as we will be posting videos with more detail on this.
1. Find spinal neutral (pictured below).
2. Learn how to activate each part of the core in neutral.
Try taking a deep belly breath in. Breathe all the way out, making a “ssh” noise until the very end. Toward the end of the breath, you should feel a narrowing of your waist, like a corset gently being pulled in.
Try to hold this contraction (about 50% capacity, not too hard!) Aim to be able to take 5 normal, relaxed breaths while holding
3. Slowly add in tasks of increasing complexity, keeping in mind the idea is gentle control, not locking on. You should always be able to breathe!
Finding Spinal Neutral To find spinal neutral follow the steps listed below.
Create a diamond & place it over the pubic region
Arch your spine off the floor
Curve your spine into the floor
Rest the spine in a neutral position half way between these two extremes
The “Core” in Other Joints We’ve spoken a lot about the inner core unit that everyone knows and loves. But as mentioned earlier every joint has core stabilising muscles that protect the joint whilst the moving muscles move the joint. Let’s look at the core muscles of two common joints of the body pole dancers and aerialists frequently use: the shoulder and the hip.
The shoulder consists of a few moving parts- the scapula (shoulder blade), clavicle (collar bone) and the humerus (arm bone). Our main shoulder stabilisers can be divided in to scapula stabilisers and the rotator cuff.
The main scapular stabilisers are the trapezius muscle family and serratus anterior. These muscles work in opposite directions to help suspend the shoulder blade in a happy, neutral position on our rib cage and are assisted greatly by our rhomboid muscles. They also play a role in directing the shoulder blade upward when we reach overhead. This gives us greater range of motion and strength overhead, which is just what we want on the pole.
Our rotator cuff consists of four muscles, which blend together to cover the whole 360 degrees of our shoulder joint (glenohumeral joint). They create a suction force to help pull the ball in to the shoulder joint to stop it from dislocating or subluxing. They also provide a gentle, controlled rotation of the arm bone in the socket. This allows us to reach or grip in any direction (think basic spin grip, split grip, twisted grip and more!)
Without these muscles functioning, our shoulder wouldn’t be able to elevate overhead or maintain its correct position in the joint (aka it would dislocate – eep!). We have talked in past blogs about stability in the shoulder. Click HERE for a full review.
Once all of these muscles are correctly functioning, our bigger moving muscles such as our deltoids and pecs can comfortably move the limb without concern of biomechanical injury. Check our socials through the week for exercises to help kick start your shoulder stabilisers!
Hip Similar to the shoulder, the hip is also a ball and socket joint and has a “cuff” of muscles circling the whole 360 degrees of the joint. This cuff also helps pull the ball in to the socket and helps us direct our leg. They are our turnout muscles!
Turnout, or external rotation, of the hip is very important for aerialists and dancers. Good activation of our turnout muscles helps to keep the hip in an ideal position for our hip flexors to work to lift our legs.
Without this pre-stabilisation from our hip rotators (and our deep core as well), it is very difficult to use our hip flexors to lift our legs, and can leave us with the dreaded “micro-bend” when inverting, make our legs feel much heavier and can lead to hip popping or hip impingement syndrome.
Check out our socials this week for a great way to engage your hip stabiliser muscles! Well there you have it, a neat little overview of how our core system works. The biggest take home message we hope you’ve been able to get out of this blog is that our body doesn’t have just one core, but in fact every joint is indeed stabilised by it’s own individual core unit to then come together to work as a whole system. And to be able to perform those incredible tricks on the pole like your jade split or bird of paradise, a strong stability system of each joint is required to allow the moving muscles to do their job. So make sure you’re keeping each of your ‘core’ muscles strong!
Noticing you’re limited with your flexibility? Or lacking strength with certain pole tricks, then you may not be utilising your deep stabilising muscles correctly.
Online telehealth appointments can be booked with the Pole Physio via our ‘Book Online’ page that can be found here. Assessment and tailored rehabilitation are provided in accordance with best practice and evidence-based treatment to help you unleash your 'poletential'.
Until next time, train safe
The Pole Physio
Howell, L (2021). Deep Core Activation [Electronic version]. The Ballet Blog, Coaching Calls #52-54.
Sherb, E., DPT (2021, February 14). Circus Core (Webinar). The Circus Doc.
Howell, L (2020, June 11-14). L1 Teacher and Therapist Training (Online Course). The Ballet Blog.
Sherb, E., DPT (2018). Applied Anatomy of Aerial Arts. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books.