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Understanding Role of Stabilizer Muscles

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 hip or shoulder can cause pain, degeneration and poor biomechanics. Localizing and strengthening the stabilizer muscles helps minimize these harmful joint translations and create a solid body framework.

The three principle stabilizer muscles function at:

Why is it essential to develop Stabilizer Muscles?

There are a few reasons:

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 endurance.

How to Train for Stabilization

There are three ways you can train if you want to increase your body’s stabilization abilities.

  1. 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 weighted lunges instead of leg press 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, dips are better than bench press, and standing military press are better than the seated equivalent.

  2. Incorporate unilateral movements into your workouts. Do exercises with one arm or one leg at a time. Try one-armeddumbbell bench press, one-legged squat, one-armed 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.

  3. 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 stimulated.

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