Anyone who’s been exercising for a while would undoubtedly have heard the term “core stability”.
However, I would hazard a guess that many people believe this simply means that you need to suck in your gut when performing certain exercises.
That being said, there is a case for this explanation, but in reality, there’s far more to it.
So, in this article I’d like to discuss what the core muscles are, what core stability is, why it’s important, before finally introducing you to one fantastic exercise that will train your core stability.
And as an added bonus, this exercise is also an intense way to train your abs.
The one exercise you need to improve your core stability is:
The Offset Load Deadlift
Load a barbell with very light weights on one side and keep the other side of the bar empty.
Perform a slow and controlled deadlift, while focusing on keeping your torso straight without allowing the bar to dip to the weighted side, or your body leaning to either side.
Aim to keep your body perfectly symmetrical when performing the movement.
What Are the Core Muscles?
Firstly, before I get into the ins-and-outs of core stability I think it’s important to define what the core muscles actually are.
The vast majority of people assume the “core” is your abs, more specifically the visible six-pack muscle known as the rectus abdominis.
However, in reality the core muscle encompasses far more of the body than you may think.
Sure, all the major ab muscles are part of the core, namely the rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, multifidus, and the internal and external obliques.
But, the core muscles also include the glutes, hip muscles, hip flexors, erector spinae muscles, the diaphragm, and the pelvic floor muscles.
Therefore, if you are “training your core” simply by performing ab-specific exercises obviously you’re missing out of a lot of muscle groups.
So, when I speak of core stability I am referring to every single muscle mentioned above.
Realistically, you could say that the core muscles are the muscles of the front, back, and sides of the torso, plus the muscles that stabilize the hips and the muscles that stabilize the shoulders.
What is Core Stability?
Okay, now that we understand what the core is it’s time to discuss what core stability is.
The easiest way to describe “core stability” is simply the ability to stop your spine from moving during physical activity.
In terms of sports and exercise core stability could be described as stabilizing your entire trunk while you make “functional movements” with your arms and legs.
And finally, from an academic perspective (Crisco, Panjabi 1995) core stability refers to “the ability to withstand buckling from compressive forces”.
Basically, it means that you can use your core muscles independently to your limbs and vice versa.
We all have some form of core stability, as if you didn’t every time you lifted one arm or one leg your entire body would move in the same direction, or you’d simply fall over.
However, when it comes to sports, fitness, and exercise it makes a great deal of sense to work on and strengthen your core stability.
So, now let’s look at why core stability is so important.
Why is Core Stability Important?
Once more, the easiest way to define why core stability is so important is that it enables you to “perform” at your best and will also help to prevent injuries.
I guess we could also add my exaggerated example from above that it stops you from falling over any time you move one of your limbs.
Okay, when it comes to injury prevention, your core stability ensures that you don’t put your spine under undue stress from heavy loads.
As an example, if you had absolutely no core stability the very second you placed a loaded barbell across the back of your shoulders to squat you’d injure your lower back, while crumpling to the ground.
The exact same can be said for any weighted exercise.
Imagine trying to perform overhead presses while the middle of your body collapses.
This also explains why many people feel certain exercises in the lower back, essentially this is usually poor form, but I’m willing to bet that poor core stability played a role too.
Finally, good core stability is essential to transfer force from the upper body to the lower body, and vice versa.
If you think about it, the upper body and lower body are connected to each other through your core, so having a strong core is obviously extremely important.
A fantastic example of this transfer of force in the gym environment is thrusters.
So, you bend into a squat in order to produce enough force to press a weight overhead.
And the stronger your core muscles, the more weight, or the more reps, you’ll be able to perform.
The One Intense Ab Exercise That Will Significantly Improve Core Stability
And finally, here it is, the ONE exercise that will dramatically improve your core stability.
Actually, “one” exercise isn’t really the case, as you can do this with a wide variety of exercises.
Basically, these are what are known as “Offset Loaded Movements”.
This simply means that you are performing a weighted movement whereby the weight is unevenly distributed.
The best way to practice this is with a very light deadlift (video example below).
You will load one end of the bar with a light weight plate, whereas the other end of the bar is completely empty.
This will immediately expose any core stabilization problems that you have.
Due to the barbell being offset loaded you’ll find that the bar tries to swing over to or dip down on the loaded side.
Then again, you may find that your body tries to shift in the same direction as where the bar is tipping.
A great way to describe what is happening here with your core is to imagine carrying a very heavy shopping bag in one hand.
You’ll typically find that you start leaning to the side that is holding the bag, or you lean to the other side to “offset” the load.
Therefore, due to the uneven load your core needs to work extremely hard, especially on the opposite side to the load, in order to keep your body symmetrical.
So, when performing the offset loaded deadlift your aim is keep both your torso and the bar absolutely symmetrical throughout the entire movement.
So, as you can see, the offset loaded deadlift is perfect for improving core stability.
This provides an uneven load, which means that your core has to work extra hard to stop the barbell from dipping to one side, or your body leaning to one side.
You can perform a variety of single-limb or single-side exercises which provide the same benefit.
As an example, single-arm dumbbell or kettlebell overhead presses or single-arm suitcase loaded carries will both work your core stability equally as hard.
Now that you’ve got your core sorted, how about really pumping up those guns?
Make sure to read my article about the only 3 exercises you need for a biceps workout for maximum growth.
Hi, I’m Partha, owner and founder of My Bodyweight Exercises. I am a Level 3 Personal Trainer and Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist through the Register of Exercise Professionals, United Kingdom. I have been a regular gym-goer since 2000 and coaching clients since 2012. My aim is to help you achieve your body composition goals.