5 Ways Trunk Stability Will Help You Build More Muscle
There's a good chance that if you're reading this email that you live in your lower back. What does that mean? It means that when you bend and extend your spine, your hinge point (or where your spine moves primarily) is from your lumbar spine.
I am only using image as an example. Pulling your chest up and forcing this position won't help either. But look at those dashed lines. There's a good chance that when you sit, stand, walk, eat, use the bathroom, drive AND train in the gym, you LIVE in that position. THAT is the problem. Sitting isn't inherently bad just like any other motion isn't either. But sitting IN your lumbar spine... IS bad. Where that arrow is pointing are the Ishcium bones on each side of your pelvis.
Most people aren't aware of those sit bones, can't use them and can't access them without dysfunction.When you do squats in the gym, you need to sit into those sit bones. When you do deadlifts in the gym, you need to stand from those sit bones pushing the hips FORWARD.Basically in any hinge based movement, the sit bones should be the hinge point, but there's a good chance that your hinge point is at your lower back and NOT your sit bones.
Just like that dash line in the photo on the left.
Here's is one of the most common dysfunctions I see in the squat:
And honestly you could assess this WITHOUT the arms being in the overhead position. Most people don't have the thoracic spine (upper back) mobility to go overhead and squat. And this sight during a movement is a lack of Trunk Stability or the torso has no stability at the front of it to prevent flaring of the rib cage. Why’s that an issue for building muscle? Let’s jump in.
- Weak Core
What does that mean?
It means that the deep inner core muscles (Transverse Abdominis, Diaphragm & Intercostals between ribs) are weak af.
The diaphragm is in there too. Stability by definition means enduring or basically unshaken under pressure (or in this case load from squatting). If you don't have trunk stability you lose the alignment of your rib cage and pelvis during your movements making your lumbar spine susceptible to taking more load than it needs to be taking.
And if you lose the rib cage and pelvis, your hips can't work. That means your glutes and hamstrings are not receiving a lot of load in your deadlifts, squats and other hinge based movements. If that’s the case, they’re not being built effectively. Once you lose stability at your core, the back of the body changes its role in your movement and actually get worked differently. This change inhibits the ability to build muscle in your glutes and hamstrings.
Why? Because your brain will look to your erectors on the back of your body for stability in a flexed or extended position instead of where it SHOULD: the front line of your body so your hips can work effectively. I’ll dig deeper into this connection between your brain and stability later on. For now I’ll talk to you about those spinal erectors.
- Your Spinal Erectors Shift From Stabilizers To Active Movers
A stabilizer in a movement is meant to PREVENT movement. Therefore it should NOT be moving itself (specifically flexing or extending in this case of a hip hinge). But once that stabilizer fails (in this case the anterior core and deep core muscles) other things must pick up the slack to help the movement still be completed (in this case the spinal erectors).
Here's what those erectors look like:
And look what is says those muscles do AS prime movers and NOT stabilizers.... Back Extension. Here's what back extension (specifically lumbar extension) looks like:
Look at his ribs...
Does that look familiar?
It's the SAME THING.
If your ribs are flaring, your lumbar spine is extending, WHICH MEANS.... *drum roll please*
You ain't using your hips.
You ain't stabilizing with your core.
You ARE moving through your lumbar spine and erectors.
The erectors are becoming movers in your squat. You'll see the same thing in deadlifts, lunges, bent over rows and basically anything involving a hip hinge.
When you're scrolling Instagram and watching people lift, watch the first thing that moves in their deadlifts. If they're going heavy especially it's probably the lumbar spine.
Check this out:
In this image look at where the bend in his spine is....
His lower back.
Bringing back that sit bones image, what looks familiar?
The rounding and sit bones being DOWN. So his hinge point is at his lower back and NOT his hips. And unfortunately this image is the cover for a "Deadlift Exercise Guide" video. And unfortunately x2 you'll see this ALL OVER INSTAGRAM. Many people live in their lumbar spine when they train. And it's no bueno. If you wanna ACTUALLY train your hips to be strong and resilient, those sit bones need to be up.If your ribs and pelvis are out of alignment, you can't use your sit bones, load your hips and save your lower back.
Building this habit of using those stabilizers as movers changes how the brain operates around these movements. You’ll hypertrophy (or increase muscle) the FUCK out of your erectors and your glutes and hamstrings will be continue to be inhibited throughout all the rest of your lifts. And eventually all the compression you’re causing at your lower back (or lumbar spine) will cause other issues down the line like nerve pain, low back pain etc. If you want to learn how to deadlift while ACTUALLY using your hips, sign up for a free 30 minute call here and we can chat about it!
Earlier I spoke about the relationship between your brain and stability which directly impacts where you load weight when you lift. And that will directly impact HOW you build muscle.
- CNS Dysfunction
What the heck is a CNS? I gotchu. Your CNS is also known as your Central Nervous System. It’s a complex neural network of stuff. It’s relation to muscle contraction deals with how your brain speaks to your muscles. In order for a muscle to contract, your Central Nervous System sends an electrical signal to that muscle basically telling it to do stuff. If that signal is muddled, weak or inefficient, sometimes you can do a certain movement all you want and you won’t feel shit. Overtime dysfunctional movement changes the way the brain learns how to move. It starts to use compensatory means to complete movements. In other words, it’s inefficient. It uses too many muscles to complete a task because it’s searching for stability to keep things from breaking down in that specific movement.
And sometimes that search comes up for a loss with the muscles you’d expect to complete a certain movement. And because your brain is constantly searching for stability, the signals start getting sent to muscles AROUND the muscle you’re trying to work should that area be unstable.
Going back to the hinge example. If the front of your body is unstable and rib flare happens, your brain will contract the FUCK out of your erectors on your back (usually lower back) to stabilize the torso. So your hinge is no longer in your hips, it’s in your lower back. And the CNS continues this dysfunction because even though it’s not ideal, it still completes the task of the hip hinge is squats, deadlifts, etc. So you’re basically forcing your brain to use the wrong stuff to do the movements you want to do because you’re unstable and can’t utilize the muscles you WANT to build.
And this “dysfunctional learning” is reversible with repeated efforts and time, but the longer it persists, the harder it is to reteach the brain. It’s a tough process, but if you wanna build muscle long-term, you’ll take the time to relearn like I am now.
- Dirty Volume
What the hell does that mean? This concept is related to the previous reason. As the dysfunctional movement impacts the brain and vice versa, the volume in the gym becomes WAY less effective because the right stuff isn’t being loaded. If you’re doing heavy lunges, but your lower back is doing all the work, it’s not only going to take A LOT more reps to start to feel your glutes and hamstrings (if at all) but your lower back is going to be taking WAY too much load. You’re basically asking it to a job it’s not qualified for AT ALL.
So your 3x12 or 4x10 or whatever you’re doing becomes like a 3x4-5 where the 4 reps are when your glutes FINALLY do stuff and feel some load. That’s not an exact measurement of course, but you get my point. Your volume is dirty and inefficient. Clean volume is basically reps that DO NOT compromise your internal structure. In other words, you’re INTENTIONALLY moving and there’s no unintentional movement. It’s efficiency. It’s loading what you WANT to load and leaving out what you don’t want to load.
So during a set if you’re on rep 8 or 9 and start to feel things breakdown (rib flare for instance) you’d stop the set. That’s why sometimes it’s better to have a range of reps instead of a specific amount. So instead of a 3x12, make it 3x8-12 to leave room for that clean volume. And you can apply this strategy in real time. Take time through your reps and really focus. Make every rep count. Don’t go through the motions, really FEEL the work happening. On the other hand if you're doing a set of 1-4 or 5 even, it may be harder to feel things, but for higher rep sets, you’ll definitely feel stuff applying this execution note. You’ll have better sets, less compensation and more gains where you want.
- Less Injuries & Pain
I know this may be a given since I talk about it so often, but I HAVE to re-iterate it and end with it because it’s THAT important. As I mentioned before, when you load your lower back and OVER train your erectors, you’re putting a shit ton of compression on your lower back. There’s a shit ton of stuff you DO NOT want to be compressing down there. A ton of nerves that when pinched can cause some issues down or up the rest of the body. Because that rounding or extending of the lower back may pull in the lowwwww parts of your back (sacroiliac joint) compression occurs there too. Let me show you what those look like:
All those cords coining out of the spine are nerves. And they all connect down low in your legs. You don’t wanna be compressing that area. When you’re training, you want your lower back to be loose and chill after a session. If your lower back feels tight, something didn’t go well. And eventually that tightness will get worse. The area will get more and more compressed. You may or not experience pain, but you will experience dysfunction in your movements. This ain’t a fear monger post, it’s just reality. I’ve seen it over and over and over and over again. It’s only a matter of time. Your lower back just isn’t meant to take load that way. So when you give a part of your body a major job it’s not qualified for, eventually it’ll give out and issues will result. And you can’t build muscle if your shit hurts.
So hopefully by this point you’ll be giving stability at your torso more attention. It’s CRUCIAL to move better, feel better and stay out of pain while you build muscle. If you need some help improving your trunk stability, contact me here for a free 30 minute call and we can chat about where you’re at! I can give you some recommendations and send you on your way! Looking forward to hearing from you!