Core stability training begins with learning to co-contract the TA and MF muscles effectively as this has been identified as key to the lumbar-support mechanism.
To perform the TA and MF co-contraction, you must perform the ‘abdominal hollowing’ technique with the spine in the neutral position. Use the following guidelines: Start by lying on your back with knees bent. Your lumbar spine should be neither arched up nor flattened against the floor, but aligned normally with a small gap between the floor and your back. This is the ‘neutral’ lumbar position you should learn to achieve. Breathe in deeply and relax all your stomach muscles. Breathe out and, as you do so, draw your lower abdomen inwards as if your belly button is going back towards the floor. Pilates teachers describe this as ‘zipping up’, as if you are fastening up a tight pair of jeans. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds and stay relaxed, allowing yourself to breathe in and out as you hold the tension in your lower stomach area. Repeat 5-10 times.
•It is absolutely vital that you perform this abdominal hollowing exercise correctly otherwise you will not recruit the TA and MF effectively. Bear in mind the following points:
Do not let the whole stomach tense up or your upper abdominals bulge outwards, as this means you have cheated by using the large rectus abdominus muscle (the six-pack) instead of TA.
Do not brace your TA muscle too hard; just a gentle contraction is enough. Remember it is endurance not max strength you are trying to improve.
Do not tilt your pelvis nor flatten your back, as this means you have lost the neutral position you are trying to learn to stabilise.
Do not hold your breath, as this means you are not relaxed. You must learn to breathe normally and maintain the co-contraction of TA and MF.
Use your fingers for biofeedback on either side of your lower abdomen to feel the tension in the TA muscle.
Once you have mastered abdominal hollowing lying on your back, practice it lying on your front, four-point kneeling, sitting and standing. In each position, get your lumbar spine into neutral before you perform the hollowing movement.