Stabilizing muscles are very important but often overlooked, muscles that support posture and alignment and generally keep us upright. Stabilizing muscles are important not because they make us look good—we have other muscles for that (think: abs, biceps, etc.). Rather, stabilizing muscles hold the body together and help prevent muscular and skeletal injuries.
Stabilizing muscles don’t play a strong role in the overall movement of the body. Instead, they provide a basis of support. The biggest group of stabilizing muscles is the core. Most people have heard about core strength and the importance of this muscle group, but let’s explore some of the individual muscles in detail.
One of the most important core muscles is the transverse abdominis. This is a deep abdominal muscle. Although this is an important muscle, strengthening it will not contribute to your six-pack! Rather, this muscle supports the spine and pelvis.
Though not directly involved in movement per se, the transverse abdominis stabilizes the abdomen in essentially all movements. It helps keep you upright as you stand and walk and when you exercise. It even helps
The good news is strengthening the transverse abdominis is relatively simple but somewhat challenging. Most exercises that work your abs will also strengthen your deeper abdominis muscles. Try leg lifts, planks, and dead bug, or search the internet for other exercises.
The lumbar multifidus is a deep muscle in the back, nestled up against the lumbar spine. This muscle, as you might have guessed, stabilizes the spine. It works in tandem with the transverse abdominis to keep the spine erect during movement.
Strengthening the lumbar multifidus can be tricky, but the exercises are not difficult. Try a modified side plank (keeping your forearm and lower legs on the ground); a bird dog posture (start on hands and knees with a straight spine, then extend your right arm and left leg straight out and hold, alternate after a few seconds and repeat); or a bridge pose.
The quadratus lumborum is another deep abdominal muscle. This muscle connects the top of the hip and the lumbar spine. As such, it aids in stabilizing the lower back and pelvis. Excessive sitting (such as in an office or car) can overwork the quadratus lumborum, causing low back pain.
You can strengthen the quadratus lumborum with side planks and leg lifts while in a side plank. This can help build stamina to endure long periods of sitting while at work.
You may also wish to stretch this muscle to release some tension from sitting for too long. Side stretching exercises (e.g., triangle and extended side angle poses) are great for this. If you aren’t familiar with any of these, look a few up online.
Types of Stabilizing Muscles of the Extremities
There are also stabilizing muscles outside of our core. These help with maintaining the alignment of our joints, such as our shoulders or hips. While larger muscles move these joints, stabilizing muscles keep everything in place and prevent movement outside the range of the joint.
The supraspinatus is a small muscle in the shoulder. It is one of the four muscles of the rotator cuff that supports the shoulder. It helps to maintain the alignment of the upper arm in the shoulder joint.
The supraspinatus, along with the other muscles of the rotator cuff, can be prone to injury. Strengthening exercises can help prevent or rehabilitate an injury. You’ll want to work on rotating the shoulder outward, often with resistance. You can use an elastic band or a weight machine with a light load. Make sure to focus on rotating the shoulder, not the elbow or wrist.
The psoas major is a large deep muscle that connects the hip and lower spine. The psoas primarily supports the hip and helps keep the femur aligned in the joint’s socket. The psoas is a very deep muscle and can often be tight, causing low back pain.
Strengthening the psoas can help improve stability when standing and walking. One great psoas strengthener is boat pose: while seated, extend your legs at a 45-degree angle, and reach your arms straight out. A gentle stretch for the psoas is a bridge pose.
Don’t Ignore Your Stabilizing Muscles
Whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or not, you should pay attention to your stabilizing muscles. These muscles support our bodies and bear our weight. Most importantly, when properly strengthened and stretched, stabilizing muscles prevent injuries. Everyone should include exercises that focus specifically on these deeper muscles to maintain peak shape.