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Army September 3, 2009
Exercises to strengthen the trunk are a worthy part of a work-out,
but Lt Rob Orr warns against doing them on your own.
HE core muscles, around
the trunk, have become a
popular area of focus in
recent years. But they are
not easy to tame and you need to
know what you are doing.
Perhaps the most common of the
core muscles are those of the abdo-
pelvic group or lower trunk.
Picture a drink bottle full of water
with the lid on and a line drawn up
one side of the bottle. The lid is the
diaphragm (under the ribs), the bot-
tom of the bottle is the group of pel-
vic floor muscles (a “sling” holding
up the stomach), the sides of the bot-
tle would be the transverse abdomi-
nals (deep, corset-like stomach mus-
cles) and the muscles running up the
side of the line (or the spine) would
be the multifidus (deep in the back).
If you were to squeeze the bottle,
the pressure inside would increase.
The same thing occurs when the
transverse abdominals contract. The
pressure inside the abdomen increas-
es, which supports the spine. If a
segment of the bottle is weak, the
pressure is lost.
Research has found that milli-
seconds before any muscle in the
body develops force, the transverse
abdominal muscles tighten to pro-
tect the spine. The better the spinal
stability, the more force the body can
After a back injury these lower-
trunk core muscles may not work
correctly and research suggests they
may even switch off. That is why it
is important to retrain these muscles,
on a physiotherapist’s advice, to pre-
vent future back injuries.
The average person who
reads a magazine and
thinks they can train the
core muscles correctly is
looking for trouble.
Incorrect activation of the mus-
cles can lead to motor patterns that
recruit the wrong muscles and make
an existing condition worse.
A classic example is the “plank”,
or “prone-hold”, exercise many peo-
ple use to train the transverse abdom-
inals. This exercise has its uses in
a training program, but tends to be
more about rigidity than stability.
To train the transverse abdomi-
nal muscles correctly on the back,
side or in a prone-hold position, you
need the help of a PTI or physio-
therapist trained in transverse-mus-
If you have no back concerns,
and your transverse abdominals and
other lower-trunk core muscles are
working well, exercises to enhance
your core stability should be inte-
grated into your PT program.
The best involve movement
across many joints in a position
where the spine is not supported and
the core muscles can be activated
So, rather than bench presses,
do push-ups. Try lunges or squats
instead of seated leg presses.
Perform lat pull-downs when stand-
ing. Stand and use cables, medicine
balls or dumbbells. In military PT,
rope climbing and push-pull lessons
are of high core value.
Other core muscles, in this case
for the upper spine, are the deep
neck flexors. These are responsible
for segmental control of the neck
and may not work properly after a
neck injury (such as whiplash). This
is why you should follow a physio-
therapist’s advice after a neck injury.
Move with the
Best for core stability:
Lunges or squats
Standing lat pull-downs
Standing cables, medicine
balls or dumbbells
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