Core Stability: How to Train Your Small Stabilising Muscles

Oct 15, 2020

I fundamentally believe that one of the best ways to succeed in core training is to understand, anatomically, what it is doing for you and how your body is benefiting from the exercises you choose to do. That’s why I almost always stray into the biology when I’m presenting these concepts in my YouTube tutorials.

And this one is no exception. Here we look at core stability and how and why you can take it to the next level by focusing in on the bodily systems that work so closely together to keep us balanced and moving smoothly.

What is core stability?

As we often discuss, core stability is different to core strength. Core strength is your ability to hold a posture. Whereas core stability is about the timing of muscle movements. It’s about the small adjustments our body makes almost all of the time to improve our balance and keep us moving smoothly and efficiently.

We’re not talking about the big global force-production muscles that give us the strength and power to move at speed. We’re talking about the smaller more refined muscles that you might know as stabilising muscles.  These come into play around our joints, creating small adjustments that allow those bigger muscles to do their thing.

What’s happening anatomy-wise

There are four bodily systems that act together to support our core stability and balance. It’s important to understand the way each of these functions as only then will it become clear why I suggest training for this in the way I do.


Your cerebellum is situated at the back of your head right by the brain stem. It plays a role in virtually all physical movement and is vital for balance. Interpreting messages that come in from your eyes, ears and muscular system, your cerebellum is key in telling your muscles how to react or move depending on the situation.

Vestibular system

Your vestibular system is situated in your inner ear. It is a series of circular shaped tubes that contain small crystals. As they move around, these crystals stimulate tiny hairs providing information about which direction your body and head are moving in. This information is sent to the cerebellum which responds by sending signals to your muscles.


Proprioception is the perception and awareness of your body position and movement. Sensors are contained within all muscles, tendons and fascia, including stretch receptors that register the expansion and contraction of muscles. These provide feedback to the brain about whether the body is unstable and requires adjustment or caution.

Visual system

Did you know that half to two-thirds of the brain is used for the processing of information that comes in through your eyes? And in fact, visual information can override any other sensory input when it comes to the brain determining what needs to be done as a result. Put simply, your body relies heavily on what it can see when it makes decisions about how best to move.  

You can find a more detailed overview of each of these systems, including diagrams, in the tutorial above.

What does core stability training look like?

Training for core stability is about using exercises that challenge posture and position.  Creating instability for your body to work against.

I always suggest starting with a static posture so you can get to grips with the balance element before taking the exercise to the next level. Then you can start introducing everyday movements to up the complexity.

And there is one simple way to instantly increase the intensity of your exercises. And that’s to shut your eyes, taking your visual system out of the equation and leaving the other systems to work harder.

3 core stability exercises to try

Bird dog

Balance yourself on all fours and then slowly extend your right arm and left leg. This leaves your left arm and right leg as the only contact points. If this is a little wobbly take some time to practise. Once you are stable bring your limbs closer together to make a narrower base. You should be focusing on keeping your hips and shoulders level.

Once you are proficient make your base a little wider again and then close your eyes before extending your right arm and left leg. You may find this makes you wobbly again, but work through this and achieve stability before once again narrowing your base and then alternating by extending your left arm and right leg.

Half kneeling position

Position yourself with one knee down and one knee up meaning your back knee and front foot offer two points of contact on the floor. As you become more stable bring these into line with one another as though on a tightrope. You can increase the intensity here by closing your eyes before and during the exercise and lifting your arms above your head to shift your centre of gravity. Focus all the time on maintaining your balance without wobbling.


Keeping both feet parallel with knees wide and heels on the floor, focus on performing a smooth, controlled squat as you dip all the way down and up again. This is great for developing hip stability.

To up the difficulty, turn away from the mirror first, or close your eyes so can’t see what your body is doing. This will deliberately make you more unstable so that the smaller muscles around your joints have to come online and work harder to improve the smoothness of your movements.

 If you would like to learn more about the best exercises to help develop your core stability and make your core stronger than it’s ever been, check out my online course How to Build Core Strength & Stability for beginners.


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