My knowledge of stability was upended by no one other than Gray Cook when he said that stabilizers do not need to be strong, they need to be fast. Huh? All education before that moment told me that the stabilizers’ role is to, of course, stabilize and therefore need to be strong! Then, I started to think about it … and I thought, and I thought, and I thought (most times it takes me awhile to catch on). And then, A-Ha! If you can remember the Joint by Joint approach mentioned in my last blog, it lists that the lumbar area is in charge of stability, not mobility. However, when the area above, or below it, loses its mobility, then the lumbar region has to pick up the slack and become mobile – there is no way that the lumbar spine can perform both roles equally, so stability is compromised. Not good. If you can recognize where the lumbar region is, then you may better understand that first and foremost the muscles need to control the 5 bones that make up the lumbar spine. When ol’ lumbar does not do its job of maintaining integrity of these 5 important bones, then your chances of lower back issues can be dramatically increased.
Between each vertebrae are little, squishy pillows (called intervertebral discs) that offer padding so there is no bone-on-bone activity. When the structure surrounding the lumbar verterbrae cannot maintain control of the positioning of these 5 vertebrae, then the pillows bulge out, (think of squeezing those rubber stress balls) causing pressure on the spinal cord that runs through this section. If you have ever experienced “throwing your back out,” you know that excruciating, debilitating pain that does not allow you to stand erect and how every movement of your body HURTS – let’s not even talk about how your sciatica throws in its two-cents! As much as it feels like a semi truck ran over your back to cause such pain – it was just a little touch of the intervertebral disc against your spinal cord; talk about sensitivity! I know all of this because I have “thrown my back out” THREE times in my short life! The culprit – un unstable core/lumbar region.
So, let’s return to stabilizers being fast, not necessarily strong. In my situation, I was doing a ton of “core” work: crunches on the floor, on the stability ball, on benches and planks and reverse crunches and hyperextensions and anything else that would set my abdominals on fire! All of these sets and repetitions worked the core to exhaustion and strengthened these important muscles, and when the lighting was right, you may have seen a line of definition here or there – but all of this trained my core in isolation. So, when those three situations arose that demanded my core to work as a team with the other muscles in my body – they were slow and couldn’t hold on to my lumbar vertebrae fast enough and – BOOM! I’m out of commission. Now, this was not a one-time event – this was the result of an accumulation of bad low back posture because my core (lumbar) muscles were giving up their duties of stabilization to offer more mobility. When your stabilizers trade in stability for mobility, they become deconditioned and the products are slow and weak muscles, not fast and strong. I talked a lot about lumbar/core stability, but if you look at the Joint by Joint approach you can substitute this region with the other parts whose job is stability.
When Gray Cook introduced this idea about stability, he mentioned that the synonym of stability is motor control. Some people get this, some don’t. So, my simple term for stability is: body control. Can you move your body in space with control, no matter the activity? When you sit down – do you drop down and not even think about how hard you’re landing on the chair? When you get up off of the ground, do you need assistance (tables, chairs, hands on knees)? When you step, are your’s light feet that don’t make much sound – or are you leaving permanent footprints in the flooring? All of these ways of movement are effective (you get from point A to point B), but I argue that they are nowhere near being efficient. You may have the biggest, baddest truck in the entire world … but if the truck’s ignition does not fire properly, you’re going to be spending some time in the shop. That’s how stability works in the human body – when you try to turn the key to start the motor and you have a misfire, you need to get the wires properly hooked up and the clean up the spark plug. That’s what Fitness Lying Down does! It is the car garage for your body!
Now these are all extreme examples, so here is a visual demonstration showing how stability/motor control/body control can be different between the right and left side of the body. Notice how the person in this video starts with some “misfires,” but then the body makes the connection; the conductor of energy (the core) between the left foot and right elbow was properly plugged in. Then look how much it is easier for her to begin the exercise when she switches sides. It’s good to struggle with something like this because through these manageable mistakes, you are teaching the brain and the body to be connected and fire properly; this form of learning is more applicable in the life outside the gym than, let’s say, bench pressing and shoulder shrugs … enjoy the video!
One more visual example of Mother Nature’s mind/body connection: think of an infant during the transition to become a toddler. The herky-jerky of their walking is not because of being unbalanced as much as it is their brains and body learning together when and how to efficiently fire their stabilizers. Once that is learned, here you are today walking without losing that stability – but beware – if you don’t emphasize proper stability in your training now, you will end up back in the infancy stage of walking during the twilight of your life – or earlier!