Stabilization - Part 1
Going to the gym today is not like it used to be. Weight rooms of yesteryear were filled with heavy iron, loud banging and grunting, and the smell of big sweaty guys lifting inconceivable amounts of weight. , most health clubs and gyms have evolved into friendly health centers that cater to a variety of needs. Gyms are now more about getting in shape and being healthy than simply pumping iron.
Allow me to demystify this new concept for you. Stabilization training involves doing exercises on an unstable surface or exercise environment, in order to force you to use the stabilizing muscles. Before going any further, let us take a brief look at the definition of a muscle that acts as a stabilizer. Basically, muscles can act in two ways. We all know that muscles allow you to move your body. A less known but very important part of every movement is how muscles can contract and prevent movement in specific directions in order to allow movement to occur in other directions. Muscles which act to move your body are called primary movers. Muscles which prevent movement in other directions during a movement are called stabilizers. For example, when performing a bench press movement, the pectoralis major, anterior deltoids are the primary movers at the shoulder and the triceps brachii is the primary mover at the elbow. In order to push the bar straight up and down smoothly, you have to prevent the bar from moving sideways or front/back. For this purpose you will use the shoulder stabilizers.
They contract and hold the shoulder in place while the primary movers allow you to move the bar straight up and down. Some of the stabilizers of the shoulder joint that are recruited during a bench press movement include the medial and posterior deltoids, the rotator cuff group, and the latissimus dorsi and teres major. Muscles that act to prevent movement in joints that are not directly involved in a paritcular movement are also act as stabilizers. During the bench press, these include the muscles of the scapulae, the trunk (pelvis and spine) and the legs.
Stabilization training has been an essential part of sports and athletics for years. Coaches and trainers have long since discovered the advantages of having an athlete that is equally strong and stable: not only for performance enhancement but also for injury prevention. One of the major benefits of stabilization training is that it stimulates many groups of muscles simultaneously. From a neurological viewpoint, this is an excellent way to reanimate dormant neuromuscular pathways which have become inactive because of injury, postural faults or muscle imbalances. This means that you can improve back pain, neck pain, elbow pain, and knee pain, because stabilizers act to take the load off of your joints and neighboring overworked muscles.
Stabilization training has only recently made its way into the workout spaces of the general public. In fact, people have been training their stabilizers for years without even being aware of it. Free weight training is well known to work your stabilizing muscles in conjunction with your prime movers. The bench press is but one of many examples. Training with cables also trains the stabilizers, albeit to a lessor degree than free weights. Machines are the one mode of resistence training that do not train the stabilizers, because they force the exerciser to perform linear, one-dimensional movements in a pre-stabilized environment. Machines made their way into gyms from sports, specifically from rehabilitation. They are fairly safe and thus very useful for training injured and injury-prone people, and are easy to use since the movements are virtually set-up for the exerciser. Despite their safety and ease of use, machines develop strength in the primary movers disproportionately to the stabilizers. In the long run they are less healthy for the neuromusculo-skeletal system, lead more quickly to training plateaus and burn less calories. Eventually all exercisers who do strength training should switch to free weights.
Lately many new and interesting destabilization devices have appeared on the market. Swiss Balls or Stability Balls have become a staple in almost every health club. Bosu half-balls are used in group classes much in the same manner that steps are used, except that they provide a destabilized exercise surface. Stability boards are used to provide a destabilized workout surface so that exercises that were previously performed on a solid, stable surface can be made more challenging. The list of such devices continues to grow as fitness companies develop new and sometimes wacky looking pieces of equipment to meet the demands of this new trend in exercise.
Here are a few examples of ways that you can incorporate stability training into your workout:
1. Swiss Ball Press: Using a Swiss ball as an alternate surface to lie on instead of a traditional bench for dumbbell and barbell presses is an excellent way to begin. Using dumbbells places higher demands on the stabilizing muscles the shoulder and using a barbell places higher demands on the stabilizing muscles of the trunk. When trying this for the first time, be sure you have a spotter who can hand you the weight and watch you. Also, youíll probably notice that the demands of stabilization require you to use less weight than you normally do. Donít hesitate to reduce the weight like you would when trying any new exercise for the first time.
2. Balance Board Squat Stance: For this you need to have a specialized piece of equipment called a balance board. A two dimensional balance board will allow you work stabilization in two planes: anterior/posterior (front/back) and lateral (sideways). Letís begin by training lateral stability. Stand on the board so that it can move side to side. Place your feet at the width of your hips and pointed outwards slightly. Put your arms out in front of you with your thumbs pointing up to help you balance. Arch your back by pulling your shoulders back and slowly squat down until the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Maintain your balance and hold your position for 60 seconds. It should be noted that often a person may notice that his/her legs start to shake furiously and without control. This is normal and should subside once youíve done the exercise a couple of times. You can do 3 sets of this exercise. Stay tuned for the next article on stabilization.