Functional exercise and core training are getting a lot of attention in group exercise programming today. The reason is simple — a strong core is essential for good posture and for maintaining a healthy back. The term “core” refers to the musculature of the trunk that supports and moves the hips (pelvis), back (spine) and shoulders (rib cage). Traditional approaches to core training tend to focus on only a portion of the core, the abdominals. With repetitive exercises like abdominal crunches or curls, generally performed in a supine or lying down position, these exercises only train spinal flexion.
Water provides an ideal working environment for strengthening and training the core. Water’s buoyancy creates natural instability and water’s increased density offers enhanced levels of resistance that both assist and resist movement. As aquatic fitness professionals we can use the unique properties of water to balance the bias toward spinal flexion by including extension exercises that lengthen the spine and open the hips.
The way we begin is by stabilizing the body in spinal extension in a standing position. Then, add movement patterns that recruit the core muscles to further lengthen and stabilize. Challenging the abdominals to maintain a neutral spine and pelvis in a vertical position has the greatest carry over effect in creating a functional core.
Stability Creates Mobility
Core stability training teaches the body to stabilize muscles in order to provide dynamic joint balance and balanced posture during functional exercise. The aim of core stability training is to effectively recruit the deep-trunk muscles and then learn to maintain a neutral position of the spine and pelvis during dynamic movements.
The deep trunk muscles, Transversus Abdominis (TA), Multifidus (MF), Internal Oblique (IO), Para spinal, and pelvic floor, are key to the active support of the lumbar spine. The co-contraction of these muscles produces internal forces that stabilize the lumbar spine. Also, it is not just the recruitment of these muscles, but how they are recruited that is important. Hodges and Richardson (1996) showed that the co-contraction of the TA and MF muscles occurred prior to any movement of the limbs. This suggests that these muscles anticipate dynamic forces that may act on the lumbar spine and stabilize the area prior to any movement.
Core stability training results in increased muscular endurance, increased tendon and ligament strength, increased joint and muscular range of motion, enhanced nervous system activity, better balance and core function, and increased injury prevention and enhanced performance.
Stability Training in Water
To create exercises that challenge core stability in shallow water, I like to use a single Hand Buoy in combination with movements that remain “anchored down” with one or both feet firmly grounded on the bottom of the pool. The Hand Buoy acts as a tool to increase resistance or “loading” and enhances recruitment of the shoulder girdle for stabilization and mobilization. My DVD, H2O Power Plunge
, presents a 30-minute workout using a single Hand Buoy to challenge and train the core for stability. The workout is also available as an Illustrated Exercise Guide - Single Hand Buoy Workout
. Both can be found in HYDRO-FIT's online catalog.
Cueing for Stability
In the water, gravity does not provide the same feedback; so additional cueing is necessary to reinforce proper alignment and body position. Here are some of my favorite verbal cues to enhance body awareness and neutral alignment. The goal is to create awareness in my students of the base level of stability needed to support and stabilize the spine and pelvis (in neutral) while performing aquatic exercises.
“Sink your tailbone toward the bottom of the pool”
“Stay long through the sides of your body”
“Pull your belly button away from your swimsuit”
“Draw your shoulder blades closer to your spine”
“Keep head over heart over hips over heels”