“Core” stability training has become a key component of rehabilitation and athletic performance as a way to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. From a Physical Therapy standpoint, you’ll come across “special” exercises that are believed to “activate” the deep core and segmental muscles of the spine, and It is thought that these MUST be done before you progress to targeting the global muscles of the trunk. However, does this approach really respect the role that the midline tissues of our body express during movement and higher level performance tasks? Can we really assume that our training/rehab strategies progress along this linear timeline, where the activation of local muscles will feed into global activation patterns? For us at IKN, this is too narrow of a focus, and does not respect the organization of our movement strategies.
The complexity of the human body requires us to understand how the central nervous system exploits the tissues of our body to maintain adaptability. A key concept we would like to share with you in this insight is that of conscious awareness, and why it’s crucial to our movement athletic performance, as well as helping us facilitate strategies to improve performance. Conscious awareness is like blood flow throughout your body. We don’t have enough blood to perfuse 100% of our tissues, 100% of the time. You may have had the experience of getting up too fast after lying down, and suddenly feeling dizzy. This is because when you stand up, gravity pulls the blood down, and so we have less blood flow in our head. This is not something we are consciously aware of, and this is why we have evolved with reflexes that help shunt the blood up against gravity. Our conscious awareness can be viewed through a similar lens, in that you can’t be consciously aware of 100% of your body, 100% of the time. This is why we possess reflexes to maintain adaptability. The question then arises, how can we strategically utilize conscious awareness to improve midline stability & athletic performance? Do we want a lot of conscious awareness at our midline during athletic movement? Probably not.
Neurologically, we don’t have a lot of conscious access to the musculature around our spinal column. The majority of the control at the midline is reflexively driven, so that the midline can act as a reflexive platform for the movement of our limbs and maintain adaptability. How does the midline maintain this reflexive and adaptive behavior? Can we improve this ability by selectively activating our “core” muscles?
About 70% + of our motor learning is granted through our visual system as it gathers information from our surroundings to help direct our movement towards a target of interest. Our visual system initiates our movement intention. Our hands and feet are our body parts that directly interact with our environment more than any other peripheral tissue. This is where we want most of our conscious awareness during rehab & performance training. We have spoken about how our visual & vestibular systems drive reflexive movement at the midline to maintain stability, but strategically placing more conscious awareness at our distal tissues, at the hands and feet can encourage more reflexive control at the midline too. Remember, we can’t be consciously aware of 100% of our body, 100% of the time. We don’t want to use conscious control strategies throughout our midline during movement, because it is energy inefficient. Strategically exploiting our conscious awareness during movement & performance training can facilitate more robust movement at the midline, and this is something that we are going to cover in great detail on our upcoming online IKN performance course. Strategic loading strategies incorporating the distal segments of our limbs can encourage robust movement qualities throughout the midline, but also allow for a more robust mover as a whole. When we direct too much conscious awareness towards areas that should be reflexively controlled, it becomes energy expensive, and this may lead to difficulty adapting to other unpredictable stressors/perturbations. This, amongst many other performance strategies that will help us drive robust movement, will be offered in our new online performance course coming soon.
Whether you are rehabilitating an individual with low back pain, or facilitating strategies to improve athletic performance, we can’t underestimate the power of respecting the neurological organization of our movement. Our eyes, hands, and feet run the show when it comes to movement, and integrating principles that respect these movement strategies should become a constant presence within our movement approaches. When performing midline or core stability exercises, think less about what muscles are being activated, and more about the type of movement strategy you are facilitating. Pay attention to what the hands, feet, and eyes are doing, as this will encourage the midline to express more of a reflexive role and help us restore robust movement.