Thomas Minton December 28, 2011 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Trail Stability - Page 3

Healthy individuals should focus on training the small stabilizing muscles of the spine to add strength and rigidity while still allowing fluid movement and flexibility. Abandon the traditional weightlifting approach of heavy weight and low repetitions, because the stabilizers are postural muscles and designed to provide support over an extended period. Since these muscles are composed mainly of slow-twitch fibers, endurance, not gross strength, is the goal. Neurological facilitation—exercising the pathways between the brain and muscles—is a key factor and is different from most basic strengthening programs. Longer contractions are emphasized to improve endurance.

The basic transverses-abdominus (TA) contraction is the foundation of a successful core-training program. The first step involves understanding the "neutral-spine" position. To find this position, start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Then flatten your back so that your spine pushes into the floor to its maximum degree. Next, arch your back the opposite direction as far as possible. Repeat this process several times until you have a good feel for the range of motion in your back. Finally, arch your back again as far as you comfortably can, and then release the tension or movement by about 15 percent. This should leave a gentle inward curve of your lower back and a space between your low back and the floor. This is your neutral spine position; it should feel comfortable. If you feel strain, release the tension slightly more. This position should be maintained throughout the exercise.

Now you are ready to perform the TA isometric exercise, which consists of a gentle contraction of the deep abdominal stabilizing muscle fibers while maintaining a stable back position. Maintain a comfortable breathing pattern without flattening your low back to the floor.

First draw a deep breath, then slowly exhale until it is nearly maximally released. Now, draw your belly button in toward your spine (visualize drawing your abdominal contents inward) while maintaining a neutral spine and steady breathing rate. Hold this contraction for five to 10 seconds. One way to ensure you are doing the exercise correctly is to place your fingers near the front of your pelvis just inside of the bony protuberances. Sink your fingers deeply into your abdominals and feel for a tensing of those muscles.

Once you have the hang of it, practice the TA contraction during various activities and in multiple positions, e.g. sitting, standing and walking.

When you have mastered the TA contraction, utilize it while performing traditional core exercises, such as crunches, sit-ups and squats. A solid foundation ensures that the small stabilizing muscles will be engaged during these exercises. In addition, exercise-ball exercises can be executed more effectively while decreasing the likelihood of injury.

Core Intervals

A great way to incorporate the exercise into your running is by doing core "intervals" on your easy run days. Begin with a 10- to 15-minute warm-up. Stop to perform the TA contraction in a relaxed standing position to ensure correct form. Then, perform three to five 30-second running intervals holding the isometric TA contraction. Maintain a relaxed form. The exercise should provide stability but not rigidity to your form. Repeat this workout weekly.

Thomas Minton, PT, Cert. MDT, C.E.E.S. is a physical therapist and the Fitness and Wellness Coordinator for the Mission Rehab and Sports Clinic in Asheville, North Carolina. You can reach him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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