Many people think of the foam roller as simply a tool for self massage or myofascial release. However, it is a great exercise tool with uses well beyond myofascial tightness. It is an exercise tool that can provide an unstable or mobile surface to facilitate or progress challenging core stability and strengthening exercises. These exercises, you will learn, are important for the health and fitness of many athletes and/or weekend warriors. Therefore, this article will discuss some background information on core strength/stability, the relevant muscular anatomy and of course the most appropriate foam roller exercises.
What Muscles Are Responsible For Core Stability?
In a 1989 study, Bergmark decided to study the spine and the restraints that give it stability. Whilst he identified the passive restraints (bony anatomy, ligaments etc), he also highlighted the complexity of the dynamic restraints (read: muscles). The dynamic restraints were divided into 2 groups: local and global muscles. The local muscles were those with an insertion or origin (or both) at the lumbar vertebrae. These include:
- Lumbar Multifidus
- Internal Oblique (via the thoraco-lumbar fascia)
- Transversus Abdominis (via the thoraco-lumbar fascia)
The global system consists of muscles with origin on the pelvis and insertions on the thoracic cage and includes:
- Erector spinae muscles (including longissimus lumborum, iliocostal lumborum)
- External Oblique
- Rectus Abdominis
- Psoas Major
- Quadratus Lumborum
These muscles, he suggested, had varying amounts of activation in various postures. The takeaway message for those wishing to train their core stability and strength is that it is essential to specifically target both local and global muscles in your exercise program (discussed further later).
So, Why Should We Care About Core Stability?
Core stability and strength is an important issue if you want to enhance your physical performance, prevent or rehabilitate injuries. Poor core stability and reduced core muscle strength has been implicated in many common injuries, including:
- Low Back Pain (Hodges & Richardson, 1996)
- Knee Injury (Zazulak et al., 2007)
- Hip Pain
- Overuse lower limb injuries (Olsen et al., 2005)
Therefore, anyone who undertakes athletic pursuits (which I know is most of you guys reading this...) should be very concerned about their core stability. It is important to undertake regular training and strengthening of your core if you wish to prevent the developement of these common ailments.
What Core Exercises Should I Do?
Well, you should do a number of varying exercises. It is important that you ensure balance between all of the core muscles and include:
- Anti-rotatory stability exercises
- Abdominal (sometimes called anti-extension) training
- Extensor (sometimes called anti-flexion) training
- Activation of local muscles i.e. not only your global muscles
Here are some video examples: Anti-Rotatory Stability Exercises Anti-Extension Exercises Core Series (including anti-flexion exercises) Something A Lil' More Challenging
What Size Will Be Most Useful?
Given that you are going to cover a medium to large sized area i.e. the spine, the best size for this condition would be:
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Bergmark A. Stability of the lumbar spine. A study in mechanical engineering. Acta Orthop Scand Suppl. 1989;230:1-54. Hodges PW, Richardson CA. Inefficient Muscular Stabilization of the Lumbar Spine Associated With Low Back Pain: A Motor Control Evaluation of Transversus Abdominis Spine 1996;21(22):2640-2650 Olsen O, Myklebust G, Engebretsen L, Holme I, Bahr R. Exercises to prevent lower limb injuries in youth sports: cluster randomised controlled trial. BMJ 2005;330:449 Zazulak BT, Hewett TE, Reeves NP, Goldberg B, Cholewicki J. Deficits in neuromuscular control of the trunk predict knee injury risk. Am J Sports Med 2007;35(7):1123-1130 Photo Credit