The Importance of Having a Stable Core

In various exercise programs we always hear about the core, but what does the core entail?  How does one strengthen the core without resulting in injury?

According to Dr. Duane Paterson of Universal Chiropractic & Functional Rehabilitation, the core is and has been a very popular topic.  Everybody is talking about the core and the subject has become extremely trendy over the last five years.   However, there is a lot of confusion in the industry and a big difference between core strength and core stability.

First, let’s learn what our core is.   According to Dr. Paterson most people think their core is just the front abdominals.  There is a tendency to focus on that six-pack achieving that six-pack. In reality, our core encompasses the entire ‘drum’.  The core includes our back muscles, side muscles and the front muscles where our ribs attach to our hips.  The core also includes the glute muscles, hip muscles and the Para spinal muscles that go up our backs – that’s our core.   Those are the parts of our body where we get most of our stability and power.  However, most people limit their workout to developing only the ‘six pack’ in the front.

Dr. Paterson stated, “what’s interesting is we always think that if we were stronger we would have more stability and to some degree that’s true.”   However, what we’ve found is the outer shell muscles of the core they can be quite strong, but the spinal stability is still not there.   Typically, those two areas are trained differently.   Strength is trained differently than stability.  For instance, body builders characteristically have muscles on their backs and they’re considered very strong. Yet, body builders, in many cases, are notorious for having back pain because of the weight they lift.   Body builders build their shell muscles to the point where they’re able to move very large loads, but their structural system, the spine, stability of the spine isn’t there and they end up hurting themselves.

Dr. Paterson stated, “when we get a patient in that has back pain, 9 times out of 10 it’s because their core is weak and unstable so we have to address both issues.”  First thing, says Dr. Paterson, we have to establish stability in the core.   According to Dr. Paterson, many well-meaning patients and people in general try to get rid of back pain or prevent it by going to a gym.  They acquire a trainer or start working out with weights and then end up hurting themselves.    That’s what Dr. Paterson calls, “performance training. “ Dr. Paterson said, “most of the training that goes on in the gym today is based upon the old body builder model, which isn’t necessarily the way a person with back pain or a person doing back pain prevention needs to do.”

Dr. Paterson stated, “what we do at Universal Chiropractic is referred to as therapeutic training.” It’s based on the latest scientific research.  One of the people that we rely on for information because of his expertise is Dr. Stuart McGill.  Dr. McGill is a professor of spinal biomechanics at the University of Waterloo in Canada.  According to Dr. Paterson, Dr. McGill has done the research and found that many of the traditional exercises that we use to develop our core or our abdominal area are actually damaging our backs.

Dr. Paterson stated, “Dr. McGill found through research that a traditional sit up produces approximately seven hundred and eighty pounds of compressive force to the discs in the lower back.” Also, Dr. McGill discovered that repeated flexion is what damages the discs in the spine.  Dr. Paterson explained, when you go to a gym you see hundreds of people using their muscles to flex their spine repeatedly, and we know that this is damaging to the discs.

According to Dr. Paterson, when a patient comes in with a backache and share that they’re working out or that they’ve been to physical therapy, one of the first questions we ask, “Are you doing sit ups or crunches?”  Dr. Paterson stated, “the research is clear on muscle studies that the sit up is one of the least effective exercises for stimulating the abdominal area, so we’ll not allow our patients to do sit ups.”

According to Dr. Paterson, the second exercise that is not recommended but commonly practiced is called, “The Superman.”  That is where you lay face down and there are different combinations of this exercise where you can raise one arm and one leg or both arms and both legs.  When you’re laying face down and you’re lifting both arms and both legs, Dr. McGill found that, that produces over fourteen hundred pounds of compressive force to the low back.  In fact, he called it dangerous and that essentially no one should be doing this exercise.  This information is based upon the latest research.

Dr. Paterson stated,” at Universal Chiropractic we use a series of exercises in our workshops that the research shows is designed to target the stability muscles in the core.”  Dr. Paterson says, “once those skills are mastered, we move into more dynamic of movements that mimic much more of what we do in life.”  According to Dr. Paterson, we have to start at the basics and that’s not what’s happening in the gym.

According to Dr. Paterson, research reveals that every time you move an arm or a leg, your core muscles kick in milliseconds before that movement occurs to stabilize you through the spine.  The analogy that Dr. Paterson uses with his patients is it’s as if your core is the transmission of your body.   Everything goes through it. That’s where your power comes from.  In order to move your arms and your legs power and stability comes from the core.  The problem is that we have a seated society.  Dr. Paterson believes the statistics show that 70 percent of our work force now sits for a living.  Dr. Paterson stated, “the research is very clear that the glutes, hip muscles and the hamstrings the average person is weak in all those areas.” The glutes and hip muscles are part of our core and if they’re weak and you’re moving, lifting, pushing or pulling you’re going to end up injuring your back.  That’s why we focus so much on stabilizing the core – to prevent injury.

For more information about Dr. Duane Paterson and Universal Chiropractic & Functional Rehabilitation, you can visit their website or you can contact them at 916-683-3900. To obtain further information about Dr. Stuart McGill’s research and upcoming seminars you can visit

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