Improving Core Stabilization Patterns

Front Plank

One of the first concepts we teach clients at IFAST is neutral spine.

As you can imagine, this is difficult for many – whether it’s due to limited mobility, poor stabilization patterns, or a mixture of both, this can often be quite challenging.

To help teach neutral spine and proper core stabilization patterns, one of my favorite tools is a simple PVC pipe.  As you can see in the picture above, I’ve placed a PVC pipe along my spine, and it should be in contact with three parts of my body:

–  My buttocks.

–  My upper back.

–  The back of my head.

If someone is really struggling, we’ll use the PVC pipe not only for basic core stabilization exercises, but on dynamic exercises such as squats, pulling variations, or whatever needs the most work.

What you will often see instead of a neutral spine stabilization pattern (which emphasizes the external obliques) is a crunching stabilization pattern (which emphasizes the rectus abdominus).  Check out the picture below:

Crunch Stabilization Pattern

In this case, Lance is “shortening” his core in an effort to stabilize his spine.  However, doing so changes a lot of things for the worse – his pelvic alignment, his thoracic spine alignment, etc.

Along those same lines,  when you use the cue “tight” alone, people naturally assume that they should crunch.  I used to use the analogy of bracing by telling clients “imagine if I punched you in the stomach.”  Sure, they would get tight, but what else happens?

Crunching over, and even flexing your spine to some degree, is natural when given this cue – this is how we would reflexively protect ourselves if we were fighting!

As such, I’ve gotten rid of that analogy.

Instead, look at the picture below to see what a more appropriate stabilization pattern might look like:

Tall and Tight Stabilization Pattern

In this case, the simple cue “tall and tight” works  well. If someone has very drastic curves in their spine, you can cue them to simply “lengthen” their spine, or get tall.  When you do this, it’s amazing not only how much better their spinal alignment looks, but how all their core muscles reflexively turn on as well.

Neutral spine and proper bracing patterns are integral in my book.  How do you guys go about improving these patterns?  I’ll look forward to your insight below!




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  1. This is a great post Mike.
    So many people will not hold netural spine when performing the basic plank move. It is tempting here to crunch the abdominals to prevent the pelvis tilting in the wrong direction. Rather focusing on length and engaging the external obliques is more effective. I will certainly use these cues from now on when teaching.


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