Do Instablity Exercises Help Your Core Muscles?

A recent study reviewed the impact of instability exercises on increasing power of the body’s core muscles. These are the muscles and tendons that come from the spine, the shoulders and the pelvis. From a review of recent studies, the researchers concluded that instability exercises may not provide similar benefits to all people in the same way. While exercises on unstable surfaces may be more useful for rehabilitation and for recreational athletes, professional athletes stood to benefit more from the ground-based free-weight exercises.

There is a lot of controversy about the utility of instability exercises, in comparison to  free-weight exercises that are performed on the ground, for strengthening the core muscles. Many instability devices like physioballs, unstable discs and foam tubes are often used as exercise platforms to increase the power and efficiency of core muscles. Another way of exercising the core muscles involves activities that may be performed while standing stable on a ground, making use of the body mass. While some researchers believed that instability exercises were essential additions to the ground-based exercise program, there were others who challenged this idea. For the present study, the researchers extensively reviewed previous research to assess how useful instability exercises were for different groups of people. Practical recommendations including the evaluation, assessment, prescription, effectiveness and applicability of ground-based free-weight exercises for fitness enthusiasts are discussed. This review focused on “training the core musculature for healthy and athletic populations.”

The researchers analyzed past studies, which were conducted with different methods and strategies. Some of the studies assessed the effects of instability on the activation of core muscles or on the muscles of arms and legs. Some other studies assessed how instability affected the movement across different group of muscles. While some studies were conducted on professional athletes, others were conducted on recreational athletes or people who were being rehabilitated.

* It was found that experienced and inexperienced athletes had different training needs.
* Ground-based free-weight lifts gave moderate instability to the athletes and provided strength to arm and leg muscles at the same time.
* For the injured athletes, the unstable devices appeared to be highly beneficial for rehabilitation.
* Unstable devices were less useful in providing absolute strength and power required by professional athletes.

Next steps/Shortcomings
In the present study, the impact of intensity and extent of exercise on development of muscle strength were not assessed. Future studies need to explore how much exercise produces what kind of results, with different degrees of instability. Such studies can help in planning different types of exercises for different groups of people, across a wide range of situations.

The present study has concluded the relevance of using unstable surfaces during exercise, for strengthening the core muscles. Drawing on data from studies of the past, the authors concluded that instability exercises may not be a one-for-all solution. Such exercises may be helpful to the recreational athlete or during the rehabilitation phase of an injured professional. The unstable surfaces may also be used in different phases of the core muscle fitness program. However, when a lot of strength is to be developed the unstable surfaces may “inhibit force, power, velocity, and range of motion.” The study can be helpful in devising need-based programs for different types of athletes.

For More Information:
The Use of Instability to Train the Core Musculature
Publication Journal: Applied Physiology, Nutrition & Metabolism, January 2010
By David Behm; Eric Drinkwater; Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John’s, Canada; Charles Sturt University, Bathurst, Australia

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.