Supine Spinal Stabilization on a Foam Roller / Part I

By James Camastra...

At PPT we work on spinal stabilization in many ways.  This month and for the next two I will introduce three different exercises that improve core stabilization.  They will all be distinctly different so check back to get inspired!

What is spinal stabilization and why is it good to add to your workouts?  Spinal Stabilization is simply keeping the spine at neutral while applying stress to the body that may cause deviation.  Neutral refers to its natural state, maintaining it's natural curves without flexing/extending, rotating or side bending.  In order to accomplish this the core musculature needs to engage isometrically, firing the muscles without movement.  

Though there is no movement, muscles need to fire more or less to stabilize while the stress is being applied.  If you vary these stressors, your core will be functionally ready for most of what life, your sport or activity, brings.  The primary muscle used in this bracing action is the transverse abdominus (TA).  The TA is the the first muscle engaged when initiating just about any movement and having it strong and endurable helps prevent injuries and improve sport performance.  The other core muscles that are isometrically active in this exercise are the rectus abdominus, internal and external oblique, multifidi and other spinal stabilizers. 

The two movements I am introducing are supine spinal stabilization exercises on a foam roller.  Both require you to lie on your back on a 36" full round foam roller.  Adjust up or down until your tailbone to head are resting on the roller.  Be sure you are centered and neutral.  If you find the roller uncomfortable, lie a towel down on top of the roller first.  Just be sure it isn't stabilizing the roller at all. IMPORTANT: you should have a curve in your low back. For most people, the cue to "engage your core and decrease the curve in your low back just a bit" works.  If you have a "flat back" you will need to create a small curve in your low back and maintain it.  Stay engaged the whole time and try to separate your breathing from the core engagement.  This itself takes time to perfect and is a big part of these movements. 

With Arm Movements (less difficult):

  • Feet should start at a comfortable and natural distance apart with arms extended vertically toward ceiling;
  • lift one arm overhead, pause, return, alternate;
  • lift one arm out to side, pause, return, alternate;
  • as it gets easier hold arms in extended positions for up to 5 seconds and/or move feet closer together.  Some may progress to having their feet together;
  • Add light weights (1-3 pounds) to the hands to increase difficulty;
  • do for up to two minutes per set.

With Leg Movement (more difficult):

  • place your hands on your abdomen with your fingers feeling your core engage.  Your elbows should be close to the floor, but not touching. Feet are a comfortable distance apart;
  • without shifting your weight to either side, lift one foot off the floor and hold for 1 to 5 seconds, switch. Do for up to 2 minutes.  Be sure to continue your time count even if you are failing, foot taps floor or elbows tap;
  • the further you lift your foot off the floor the easier.
    • Note: it is very common for one side to be much easier than the other

Having a personal trainer observe and cue you is helpful but not necessary.  An experienced personal trainer will notice deviations, imbalances and be able to add exercises to your program that will help improve muscular balance.  

Please check back next month for another spinal stabilization exercise.  Teaser: it's a variation of a strength exercise that almost everyone already does.