You can't fake a real stable core.
No number of sit-ups or planks with get you there either.
When we talk about core stability, we're talking about your ability to hold your spine and pelvis in a fairly neutral alignment so that it can act as an anchor for your arms, legs and head to move quickly and strongly from.
Here's the bit that we usually miss out of our woolly definitions:
that core stability is highly reactive and uses as little energy as possible.
A few bits on the above:
- Notice that I said it's about your ability to hold your spine and pelvis in a fairly neutral alignment. Many of the the muscles most people 'train' around their midsection are trained concentrically (to shorten - sit-ups, v-ups, crunches, etc). True stability comes from deeper muscles that primarily work to keep joints still through isometric action.
- Even when 'core' exercises are done isometrically, with poor core stability to start with, the exerciser will not be able to use the stabilisers to do them. Think of the common plank exercise. Most people find it very challenging to do this using the best major muscle for the task - the transverse abdominis that pulls the belly button in and flexes the spine. Instead, they will compensate by primarily using their more superficial counterparts, the rectus abdominis.
- The deeper muscles, some of which are much smaller than the superficial ones, are much stronger and more well suited for the task of creating stability. They have better endurance capacities and better leverage.
- The more superficial of our muscles are more suited for conscious activity. Reactive stability is too complex to do a good job of consciously. It is best left to our reflex abilities that are carried out best by our deeper systems.
Given that many traditional core stability training techniques do not do what they say on the tin and just strengthen superficial muscles poorly suited to stabilisation, how can we go about developing real core stability?
One great way of developing real stability is to do activities that demand it that cannot be cheated with superficial strength.
One that springs to mind is a handstand.
Done with straight arms, they require very little strength and require a reactive full body that can make subtle adjustments to stay upright. The stabilisers keep the spine long and tall so that it stacks up as vertically as possible meaning the joints take away the need for as much muscular effort as possible.
Handstands don't care how strong you are, just how authentically stable you can be.
One armed handstands are even better for this purpose.
Check out these old school handbalancers. I think they have stable cores.
I know the one-armers may be beyond your current scope but regular handstands, much harder than crunches, are a low tech core stability practise that may be worth investigating.
Arton "Ditch the crunches" Baleci