Coiling Core: Moving Past Spinal Stiffness in Neutral

January 31, 2024

Core strength, what is it and what does it mean? Often when this term is used many people think of common exercises like planks, bird dogs, crunches/sit ups, paloff presses, etc. A common theme with many of these exercises is being able to keep the spine in neutral against external resistance. In other words, creating stiffness in a neutral spine position. This can be an especially important aspect to having a strong core, especially in certain situations like when lifting heavy objects. There can be no denying that this has a role in our overall functional abilities and health and wellness. However, we need a core/spine/trunk that is efficient in movement to propel us through our daily life tasks. Daily life tasks involve MOVEMENT, not simply holding ourselves in stiff/neutral positions. The most common, everyday task that people do for instance is walking and moving. There is momentum building in an area referred to as “coiling core” or “spinal engine” locomotion and we will briefly discuss some of this in this article and some potentially useful ways to change up core training to promote more efficient human movement during life’s everyday tasks.

Coiling core, in simple terms, refers to the ability for the spine/core to efficiently move and be loaded through all 3 planes of movement. These are our sagittal plane (flexion and extension), frontal plane (moving side to side) and the ever-important transverse plane (rotating/twisting). A coiling core can transfer energy efficiently through our trunk using side bending and rotational movements rather than simply teaching us to only create neutral spine stiffness. This can be so powerful and important because many of life’s tasks require us to counteract force through movement, not just in neutral. For the past couple of decades, many exercises have been made extremely popular that focus on resisting movement into extension/side bending/rotation while maintaining a neutral spine. A better way to train the core/spine is to make it efficient at producing and resisting forces through movement.

When performing coiling core movements, the idea is to create a short/contracted side (side bend and rotation of the spine/core) and a long/stretched side. This mimics the “spinal engine” for efficient energy transfer from the ground, through our lower body and through our trunk or core. There are some drills that can be done to help us get better at this movement, and through repetition, can turn into our normally used mechanics as we move throughout the day. A simple cue you can try to get your gait pattern to use this coiling core is to get “head over foot.” In other words, instead of constantly contracting and keeping our core stiff as we walk and our head in the middle of our feet, allow for a slight side bend and rotation of your spine to get your head lined up with your foot each step you take. There will be a short video that goes through this for something you could consider practicing.

A couple of my favorite movements that are common in training to help improve our overall strength can be modified to use a coiled core instead of a braced core. Single arm rowing and single arm punching. Try starting out in a staggered stance with the lead foot having more of your weight than the back foot and that same side hand holding onto your resistance. As you pull the band back, imagine driving your elbow into your back pocket and creating significant tension through that side of your body with your head going over your foot, while reaching out as far/long as possible with the other hand. This creates the short side/long side we want with the coil. Repeat this movement with purpose and control. This can be done with a punch or press as well. Again, start with one foot forward with most of your weight on that leg and the resistance in that same hand, elbow tight toward your back pocket. As you punch out, pull the other elbow tight to your back pocket, again, creating a short/contracted side as you are long and reaching with the resistance. These movements done a few times per week can help build a strong upper body, but more importantly, efficient transfer of energy through your core and build strong and functional core muscles. The idea would be for this to help transfer to normal locomotive movements throughout your day as well, subconsciously, so you have efficient and happy movement.

If you have questions and are intrigued about this coiling core training, contact us at 608.742.9356 or to be scheduled for an initial evaluation and determine if this can help you with your back pain.