Thursday, August 21, 2014

Programming Core Workouts - Part 4: Isometric Stability

Isometric Stability Exercises for the Core

This is part 4 of the continuing series on Core workouts. If you haven't seen them, or just need a refresher here's Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Our basic pattern continues here with a three part approach - front, back and side. However, these exercises are using various devices to create instability, such as a BOSU, medicine ball or stability ball. 

Instability creates two additional kinds of demand relative to simpler exercises. First, the need to stabilize engages more of the muscles, thereby increasing the intensity of the exercise without having to increase weight. Second, our trunk muscles have a significant role in stabilizing the torso and our body (of course), so a stability demanding exercises is going to help develop that capability. This demonstrates the application of a basic principle: overload. An unstable surface is overload in comparison to regular life, where we don't have to deal with unstable surfaces. Overload is necessary to make regular tasks easy.

Their are four exercises shown above:

1. Medicine Ball Plank - this engages the entire body for stabilization, especially the upper body. Emphasis should be on good posture - as always, a good plank looks just like good standing posture except rotated 90 degrees. This means a neutral spine, instead of letting the hips drop or sticking your butt up in the air.

2. Stability Ball Curl Up - with the small of the back on the stability ball this exercise focuses the demand on the abdominal muscles, unlike the previous exercise. The objective is to hold the shoulders up against gravity while simultaneously stabilizing on the ball to maintain a neutral posture.

3. Stability Ball  Hip Bridge - with the shoulders and neck on the stability ball this exercise places it's demand on the back extensors, glutes and hamstrings. Once again, the objective is to maintain a straight back posture. There is a tendency for people to cheat by letting the hips sag. However, there is no real downside to a bit of over-extension with the back. So I advise people to err on the side of elevating the hips higher than they think they need to.

4. BOSU Side Plank - by elevating the feet on the flat side of a BOSU the side plank gets an added stability requirement. As with the regular side plank the emphasis should be on good posture (which I'm sure you've noticed is the pattern), avoiding the errors illustrated in the video.

Task Complexity

These exercises illustrate another principle for progression, that of task complexity. Task complexity allows us to progress an exercise without increasing weight, by adding additional layers of difficulty in other domains. This does not improve strength but it will improve the cross-over between different exercises. 

It can also provide a way of progressing an exercise in group training when there is a mix of levels. Since not everyone can necessarily do a harder or more intense version of an exercise it can be easier to have some folks do a more complex version of the exercise.


These are supplementary exercises that work best in conjunction with the more basic exercises described in the previous parts of the series. They can be done on the off days since they are less intense than the standard weighted core exercises.

As with the other isometric exercises, aim for a duration of at least 30 seconds and build up to a minute. Much past a minute and it becomes necessary to change the exercise to continue to make meaningful improvement.


These basic exercise variants can improve an already solid core development and strengthening program by adding task complexity through instability.

(Conclusion about programming)

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