The muscles supporting the lumbar spine or “core” are so important that without them we would not be able to support ourselves! It makes sense that the spine must be able to efficiently handle forces put on it for us to perform optimally. The core must have the strength and endurance to continually maintain spinal stability and prevent excessive movement of spinal segments. Excessive movement of the spine could cause tissues to become irritated or even result in injury 1.
Relatively speaking, maintaining “sufficient stability” of the spine during daily activities does not require a great deal of strength1. We DO need to maintain adequate amounts of strength for extended periods of time. Not surprisingly, increased levels of muscle endurance have shown to have a potentially protective effect2 .
What can be done to improve the endurance of the core?
The following are 3 basic stabilization exercises that can be utilized to improve endurance.
One leg is bent to help preserve the neutral lumbar curve. Start with head and shoulders on the ground and lift shoulders as shown while tightening the abdominal muscles. This exercise can be performed in a variety of rep ranges with higher repetitions or increased sets being used to improve endurance.
To perform this exercise prop up on your forearm and elbow. I often recommend this be performed while tightening the abdominal muscles as if you will be hit lightly with a punch to the abdomen. This can be progressed from knees bent to legs straight. Progressively increasing sets of 5-10 second counts should be sufficient for improving endurance 3.
Average endurance times while performing the side bridge is approximately 95 seconds for men and 75 seconds for women 4.
While on your hands and knees lift your arm and opposite leg until level with your body. Hold for a 5-10 second count while tightening your abdominal muscles. Perform 10 repetitions increasing the number of sets to improve endurance.
These exercises can be performed daily or worked into a strength and conditioning program to improve and maintain endurance strength of the core musculature.
1. McGill SM. Low back stability: from formal description to issues for performance and rehabilitation. Exerc Sport Sci Rev 2001;29: 26-31
2. Biering-Sorensen, F. Physical measurements as risk indicators for low back trouble over a one year period. Spine. 9:106 –119, 1984.
3. McGill S. Core training: Evidence translating to better performance and injury prevention. Strength Cond J. 2010;32(3):33-46.
4. MCGILL, S. M., A. CHILDS, and C. LIEBERMAN. Endurance times for low back stabilization exercises: clinical targets for testing and training from a normal database. Arch. Phys. Med. Rehabil. 80:941–944, 1999.