Understanding Role of Stabilizer Muscles
Your body has two types of
muscle (really more
than this, but the others are in your internal organs), movers and stabilizers.
Movers are big muscles that move your body parts, hence the name. Stabilizers
are muscles that hold your parts in place and prevent you from being damaged
while the movers are moving you.
According to the American Council on Exercise, "Stabilizing muscle
contractions are generally isometric contractions that act to support the trunk,
limit movement in a joint, or control
balance." In other words,
muscles acting in a stabilizing role aren’t directly involved in lifting a
weight, but instead keep certain parts of the body steady so that the primary
working muscles can do their job properly.
Small movements in the spinal or peripheral joints such as the
shoulder can cause
pain, degeneration and
poor biomechanics. Localizing and
stabilizer muscles helps minimize these harmful joint translations and create a
solid body framework.
The three principle stabilizer muscles function at:
The trunk- The trunk or
core consists of a
deep stabilizing layer attaching directly to the spine, and a secondary layer
which produces spinal movement. The deep layer, transversus/multifidus, is
responsible for stabilizing the individual spinal segments. Most individuals
with back pain
will present with a dysfunction of this important muscle group.
The hip joint- This proximal joint in the lower limb must be
dynamically balanced to permit efficient biomechanical motion in
running. The gluteus medius muscle is the stabilizer of the
hip joint and
specific strengthening of this muscle will help prevent
knee injuries and
maximize the potential power of
The shoulder complex- The most mobile joint in the body, the
shoulder complex relies heavily on stabilizer function for correct mechanics
and injury prevention. The lower trapezius muscle controls the positioning of
the shoulder blade providing a platform for the development of power and
avoiding injuries to the rotator cuff. Lower trapezius activity also reduces
upper trapezius tension, one of the prime causes of
neck pain and
Why is it essential to develop Stabilizer Muscles?
There are a few reasons:
The inability to stabilize the body during
training may reduce the amount of weight you’re able to use on
exercises. For example, the military press exercise directly works the
shoulders and triceps.
back muscles, though, help stabilize the trunk, and if they’re weak, then
the amount of weight you can use on the exercise is reduced – regardless of
how strong your shoulders and triceps are. This then reduces the effectiveness
of the exercise on the target muscles.
Athletic movements outside of the weight room depend largely
on the ability of the body to stabilize itself. A football lineman throwing a
block drives forward with his hips, but if his
torso, and shoulder girdle aren’t tight, then the power of his block is vastly
reduced. Even everyday activities, like picking up a bulky sack of groceries
or walking up steps, requires the body to balance and steady itself, which in
turn requires strong stabilization abilities.
Stabilizing contractions in and of themselves build muscle.
Competitive power lifters rarely do direct abdominal flexion work, such as
but they often have very impressive abdominal muscles because they train
extensively in the
deadlift. Both squatting and dead-lifting put the
ab muscles in a
stabilizing role rather than a motive role, but nevertheless cause the
abs to get stronger
and more muscular. Using any of your body’s muscles in a stabilizing capacity
can directly result in added muscular size.
Studies of back pain patients show that high percentages of
patients with chronic back pain have a different mix of fast vs. slow twitch
muscle fibers. Studies also show that those with back pain tend to have very
low endurance of their stabilizers - particularly the multifidus. To prevent
back pain, you need your stabilizer muscles to have
How to Train for Stabilization
There are three ways you can train if you want to increase your body’s
Perform exercises that sufficiently tense the entire body. Please
notice the word “sufficiently.” Practically any exercise will tense your entire
body to a degree, but some exercises are particularly effective at causing your
entire body to stay tight. For your legs and hips, try squats, deadlifts and
lunges instead of
and leg extension. The former exercises require the muscles of your back and
shoulders to support and steady a barbell, while the latter exercises allow you
to shift much of the stabilization responsibility to the seat on which you
recline. For similar reasons, pull-ups are better than machine pull-down,
are better than
press, and standing military press are better than the seated equivalent.
Incorporate unilateral movements into your workouts. Do exercises with one
arm or one leg at a time. Try one-armed
bench press, one-legged squat,
dumbbell row, and whatever else seems appropriate. One-armed work causes the
abdominal obliques and the lower back muscles to fire, to keep the trunk from
excessively rotating. One-legged work causes all of the muscles of the planted
leg to work in a stabilizing capacity, to help maintain balance.
Experiment with unstable loads. This is an advanced technique that’s not
appropriate for beginners. But some trainees would benefit from lifting unstable loads such
as sandbags, kegs and barrels half full of water, and unevenly packed boxes.
When lifting unstable loads, as the weight shifts, the muscles have to take on
the role of stabilizer, then prime mover, then stabilizer again. This teaches
your body to recruit muscles in a stabilizing capacity as rapidly as possible.
If you do decide to use this technique, proceed with caution.
Strong stabilizer muscles are essential for maximizing your fitness results. Too
often individuals concentrate on exercising the major muscle groups while
neglecting stability training. Weak stabilizers will prevent a person from
lifting heavy weight even though their major muscles can handle it.
Remember, the more stabilizers and synergists worked, the more muscle fibers
Dated 27 September 2011