Home Baseball Content 6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises Are Essential

6 Reasons Anterior Core Stability Exercises Are Essential

Written on October 30, 2014 at 7:46 am, by Eric Cressey

This time of year, I'm doing a lot of assessments on professional baseball players who are just wrapping up their seasons.  One of the biggest issues that I note in just about every "new" athlete I see is a lack of anterior core control. In other words, these athletes sit in an exaggerated extension pattern that usually looks something like this:


And, when they take their arms overhead, they usually can't do so without the ribs "flaring" up like crazy.

This is really just one way an athlete will demonstrate an extension posture, though. Some athletes will stand in knee hyperextension. Others will live in a forward head posture. Others may have elbows that sit behind their body at rest because their lats are so "on" all the time.


This isn't just about resting posture, though; most of these athletes will have faulty compensatory movement patterns, too. Once we've educated them on what better posture actually is for them, we need to include drills to make these changes "stick." Anterior core drills - ranging from prone bridges, to positional breathing, to dead bugs, to reverse crunches, to rollouts/fallouts - are a great place to start. Here's why they're so important:

1. Breathing

The muscles of your anterior core are incredibly important for getting air out. The folks at the Postural Restoration Institute often discuss how individuals are stuck in a state of inhalation, with each faulty breath creating problematic accessory tone in muscles like scalenes, lats, sternocleidomastoid, pec minor, etc. These muscles aren't really meant to do the bulk of the breathing work; we should be using our diaphragm. Unfortunately, when the rib cage flies up like we saw earlier, we lose our Zone of Apposition (ZOA), a term the PRI folks have coined to describe the region into which our diaphragm must expand to function.


(Source: PosturalRestoration.com)

Bill Hartman has a great video demonstrating good vs. bad breathing here:


Step 1 is to get the ribs down and pelvis into some posterior tilt to reestablish this good zone. Step 2 is to learn how to breathe in this position, emphasizing full exhalation.

Step 3, as you may have guessed, is to strengthen these "newly rediscovered" patterns with good anterior core training.

2. Resisting extension.

This one is the most obvious benefit, as the muscles of the anterior core directly combat too much arching of the lower back. If you aren't controlling excessive lumbar extension, it's only a matter of time until you wind up with lower back irritation - whether it's just annoying tightness, a stress fracture, a disc issue, or something else.

3. Better force transfer and lower back injury risk reduction.

The research on core function is pretty clear: its job is to transfer force between the lower and upper body. Spine expert Dr. Stuart McGill has spoken at length about how spine range of motion and power are positively correlated with injury risk. In other words, the more your spine moves (to create force, as opposed to simply transferring it), the more likely you are to get hurt. How do you prevent your spine from moving excessively? You stabilize your core.

4. Indirect effects on rotary stability.

For a long time, I looked at control of extension as "separate" from control of rotation at the spine. In other words, we did our anterior core drills to manage the front of the body, and our chops, lifts, side bridges, etc. to resist unwanted rotation. However, the truth is that these two approaches need to be treated as synergistic.

As an example, every time I've seen an athlete come our way with an oblique strain, he's sat in an extension posture and had poor anterior core control - even though an oblique strain is an injury that occurs during excessive rotation. All you need to do is take a quick glance at the anatomy, and you'll see that external obliques (like many, many other muscles) don't function only in one plane of motion; they have implications in all threes - including resisting excessive anterior pelvic tilt and extension of the lower back.


What this means is that you can't simply ignore coaching in one plane when you think you're training in another one. When you do your chops and lifts, you need to prevent lumbar hyperextension (arching) . And, when you do your rollouts, you can't allow twisting as the athlete descends. Finally, you can add full exhales (a predominantly anterior core challenge) to increase the difficulty on rotary stability exercises.

5. Improved lower extremity function and injury risk reduction.

Lack of anterior core control directly interferes with lower extremity function, too. If the pelvis "dumps" too far forward into anterior tilt, the front of the hip can get closed down. As I described at length here, this can lead to hip impingement.

With a squat variation, while some athletes will stop dead in their tracks with this hip "block," others will slam into posterior tilt to continue descending. This is the "butt wink" we've come to see over and over again in lifting populations. When neutral core positioning is introduced and athletes also learn to manage other extension-based compensations, the squat pattern often improves dramatically. This can "artificially" be created transiently elevating the heels, turning the toes out, or by having an athlete hold a weight in front as a counterbalance.

Additionally, athletes in heavy extension patterns often carry their weight too far forward, throwing more shear stress on the knees during lunging and squatting. The more we can keep their weight back to effectively recruit the posterior chain, the better.

6. Improved shoulder function and injury risk reduction.

The lats can be your best friend and worst enemy. On one hand, they have tremendous implications for athletic performance and aesthetics. On the other hand, if they're "on" all the time (as we often see in extension-based postures), you can't get to important positions with the right movement quality. Overactive lats will limit not only shoulder flexion (overhead reaching), but also upward rotation of the shoulder blades. I covered this in quite a bit of detail in Are Pull-ups THAT Essential?. Moreover, with respect to elbow function, overactive lats can be a big issue with allowing throwers to get true external rotation, as I discussed here:

If you're using your lats as an "all the time" core stabilizer, you aren't just at risk of extension-based low back pain, but also problems at the shoulder and elbow. If you can get your anterior core control under control and normalize the length and tone of the lats, your "healthy exercise pool" for the upper body expands dramatically. Getting overhead is easier, and you'll feel stronger in that position. The same goes for external rotation; not surprisingly, pitchers always say that their lay-back feels smoother after soft tissue work on the lats, as an example.


These are just six benefits of training the anterior core, but the truth is that they could have been broken down in much more detail as they relate to specific injuries and functional deficits. If you're looking to learn more on this front - and get a feel for how I like to train the anterior core - I'd encourage you to check out my presentation, Understanding and Coaching the Anterior Core.


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  • I’m right there with you Eric, this has become the most common disfunction I see since I became aware of the concept of anterior core stability. Great post!

  • Sam Goldberg

    What about the other way? I have a lack of a curve in my low back. Should I still be doing anterior core work. I have low back tightness and sciatic pain and lately when I try deadbugs I feel it in the sciatic nerve when I breath in my belly in that position.

  • Stanley Beekman

    Great article. I was wondering why you left out the effect of a bilateral medial talus subluxation on the anterior tilt.
    By the way, I have used the abdominal and glute work you recommended in a prior article on my son, which quickly corrected his lordosis.

  • Ernest Tuff

    Hello Eric, I have a problem in getting the bar low enough on my upper back to squat, simply because my shoulder mobility is restricted. I have trained all my life i.e. Weights, Athletics, Karate then about 4 years ago I went back into throwing Shot, Discus, Hammer and Weight throw. Then at the close of the throwing season 2013 I went back to do some weight training and got hooked on power lifting and started competing in the Deadlift Feb 2014 and hold now the record for my age (76) and BW weight 100+, with a pull of 215kg. (220 in the gym) I also compete in the Bench press but I’m only getting 90kg because of an injured right shoulder (it’s getting better). Also I would have liked to compete in the squat but because of not being able to get the bar far enough down I am limited to about 120kg. and don’t feel comfortable.
    On top of this the competition rules for Bench press is to touch the chest and hold. In all my years of weight training I had always pressed from an inch or so from the chest, this has made it more severe on the front shoulders. The same for the squat I was never used in going down as low.
    Any suggestions? I know it’s difficult not seeing me. The only pictures are on ‘youtube’ or face book under my name ‘Ernest Tuff’
    My regards

  • Anthony Ricci

    I truly liked, in particular, the all-fours-breathing drill. That stunned me and I cramped up in my anterior area very quickly. Have been looking for something like this forever since I have, apparently, a classically flat T-spine. Thanks for the article and videos!

  • Ernest,

    Tough to say. Could be a limitation to external rotation, thoracic extension, scapular posterior tilt, or core control. Do you have someone near you who can do an assessment on you and help you with a plan?

  • Wow, this post has me smiling. I work with student, elite, and professional dancers and while much of your terminology is totally unfamiliar to me (rollouts, chops, “butt wink”), the principals and concers are fundamentally the same. Dancers spend a lot of time in arm abduction with internal humorus rotation trying to achieve stability and specific movement quality while in very precarious positions or performing arguably unnatural movements. Plus, we usually obsess over our lower bodies while neglecting the upperbodies. All of this can result in back tension that inhibits the anterior abdominals and consequently, a hyper-tonic, dysfunctional anterior abdominal wall. I particularly enjoyed your video on breathing, seeing concepts I am interested in delivered by a smart jock/dude. You all talk differently, but say the same things! Thanks for your insightful words, a great read/watch, helpful and informative.

  • Thank you, Ellie!

  • Stanley,

    Thanks. This scenario is outside the scope of the article, though.

  • Sam,

    If you’re having radicular issues into your leg, I’d encourage you to seek out a good medical professional in your area for appropriate evaluation.

  • Jon

    Great post Eric, right in line with several things I picked up this past weekend at FMS 2. Great reinforcement of those concepts. Keep up the great work.


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