How To Strengthen Your Core To Reduce Injury

When I was a bit younger I thought that all you needed to do to train your body thoroughly was train abs, squat, deadlift and press heavy, I was so wrong. I first injured my back several years ago and again a couple of years later whilst deadlifting. After many years of corrective exercise strategies, my body had enough of the heavy stuff.

Training heavy is great for building muscle but are you balanced?

No matter how long I waited or how I changed my technique, I always seemed to end up reinjured, I even had someone check my technique to make sure it was right, however a new single-movement helped open the door to my exercises once again and I now knew how to strenghten my core to prevent any further injuries.

Let’s take a look at this information which I will now gladly share with you.

Reflexive What?

Four years ago I had a specialist who deals in sports injuries assess me and he discovered that I was lacking something called ‘reflexive core stability’. This is the ability of your body to stabilize your spine and pelvis subconsciously whilst other parts of your body are moving. This is pretty important when lifting big weights on your back or overhead.

The worst part was that I had spent years mastering and even teaching the whole concept of ‘bracing’ for spinal stability and the payoff wasn’t there when I needed it most.

It explained a lot about why I could never break the chronic pain cycle, my body was not aligned correctly so the muscles that where supposed to work were not working and the muscles that were working were overworking, creating movement compensations.

Many exercises performed overhead and on your back can cause damage consequences further down the line if your core is weak.

Here is why this all matters to you: If you are looking to lift big numbers to get stronger, put on more muscle or just do more work to strip off blubber, you need strong abs. And more specifically, you need abs that work when you’re not thinking about making them work. Imagine what would happen if you lost your brace and something went wrong, like at the bottom of a snatch. You need to be able to correct and survive to life again, not just be one and done.

Back injuries often occur because of a lack of stabilization strength endurance. In other words, it’s not how strong your six-pack is that determines whether you will get injured. It’s how long you can maintain control of your spine and pelvis in relation to the rest of your body. How long can your deep abdominal musculature stabilize your spine and pelvis whilst under load? The answer here is you don’t want to find out.

Determining Your Reflexive Core Stability Threshold

How do you know if you have good reflexive core stability?

Take the three simple tests below:

1) D0 a Push-Up

It is definitely a great upper-body developer but the push-up is also a simple little test to see if you can keep your body’s natural spinal alignment. The test is pretty straight-forward: Do a push-up, a real one, with full range of motion but keep your spine aligned.

In other words, don’t let your hips sag. You shouldn’t need to brace your abs or squeeze your glutes in order to do so. If your hips sag, or you have to tighten up dramatically to make the push-up happen, you don’t have enough reflexive core stability.

There are many other none-heavy weighted exercises that can be done to help get you back on track after an injury.

2) Do The Dead Bug

This common ab exercise is a great way to isolate your deep abdominal musculature to see if it’s actually working correctly. To do it, lie on your back with your arms and legs in the air. Simultaneously lower your left arm and right leg while keeping your lower back pressed into the floor. Return to the start and repeat using your right arm and left leg. If you can’t keep your lower back on the floor then you have a lack of reflexive core stability.

3) Perform The Original Strength Dead Bug

So you can do the dead bug while keeping your lower back on the floor. Now you should try the original strength dead bug, it is done almost the same as the regular dead bug apart from a couple of small differences:

  1. Make sure that your start and finish positions are less than 90 degrees at the hip.It is a little closer to your head than perpendicular.
  2. Don’t brace your abs or even try to contract them while lowering your arm and leg.

These changes will jump-start the reflexive nature of your deep abdominal musculature.

If you can’t lower your arm and leg while keeping your leg straight and your lower back on the floor, you have a loss of reflexive core stability and this test will show you up pretty quickly.

Your back has many small, intricate muscles that all rely on your spine health for full use.

Training To Regain Reflexive Core Stability

Four years ago I took almost two years off normal strength training. Giving up barbell and kettlebell work and focusing on bodyweight training, using exercises like the original strength dead bug in my program.

Picking up a barbell again in 2014 I had lost 20 pounds of body weight, yet I came back stronger in certain posterior-chain-dominant exercises, like the double kettlebell clean. I was able to perform 4 sets of 10 reps using a pair of 88-pound kettlebells with only two minutes of rest between sets. Looking at my training log, I had never been able to do that before. I almost immediately snatched 220 pounds from the hang position as well with no practice for two years.

Basically I had not trained the main lifts and I had gotten stronger, or at least maintained my strength simply by restoring my reflexive core stability.

There are many variations of stretches and bodyweight exercises that can help you recover after an injury.

To restore your reflexive core stability, perform the OS dead bug but use these specific cues to maximize results:

  • Focus on keeping your tailbone off the ground as you lower and raise your arms and legs.
  • Maintain a hip angle of less than 90 degrees on the leg that’s in the air.
  • Work upto 4 sets of 25 reps per side with approximately 90 seconds of rest between sets with straight legs.
  • If you can’t use straight legs and keep your tailbone off the ground, bend your knees and over the course of time, work on getting them straighter.
  • Train the OS dead bug every day if you can.

How long does it take? As long as it takes you to hit those rep and rest markers. There is no hard and fast rule but it will take you longer if you have a significant injury history like myself.

In the mean time, reduce the loading in your other training by around 20%. Put everything on maintenance, basically don’t stop, just reduce it. Keep doing what you love doing but add the OS dead bug into the mix.

When you hit your 4 sets of 25 reps, it is time to turn up the volume again and start working your way back up to the heavier weights, you will be pretty surprised like I was at the results. Following this advice will have now shown you how to strengthen your core to prevent injury. If you would like some further help with joint and hip pain etc. You can view some further information here.

 

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