Do you ever feel like your muscles are too wobbly during exercises that challenge your stability and balance?
For example, every time you perform a single-leg deadlift, maybe you feel like your legs can't hold you up properly.
And maybe during a heavy squat, you’re in fear that your knees could give out so you steer clear of the big plates.
If this sounds familiar, then you need to start paying attention to your stabilization muscles.
These are the small muscles that help keep you stable and upright. And if they're weak, it can lead to all sorts of problems when going through your normal workout, especially when you lift heavy weights.
Despite their importance, they don't get the same attention as the prime mover muscles. Today is the day that you change that.
In this blog post, we will discuss what stabilization muscles are, the benefits they offer, and how to train them.
What are Stabilization Muscles?
During exercise, you can break down your muscles into four types: prime movers, antagonists, synergists, and stabilizers.
Primary Movers: Also called the agonist, this is the muscle that you specifically target during an exercise. For example, if you are doing barbell back squats, then the prime mover would be the quadriceps.
Antagonists: This is the muscle that works counter to the agonist. During a squat, the hamstrings would be the antagonist.
Synergist: Synergists work alongside agonists, but they act like a neutralizer, helping to remove any unnecessary movements.
Stabilizers: Finally, the stabilizers are the small, often underrated muscles that help maintain balance and proper form. While the synergists work with the agonist muscle, stabilizers work with the entire body.
Benefits of Stabilization Muscles
There are several benefits to having strong stabilization muscles, including:
Improved Balance and Coordination
When lower body stabilization muscles are undertrained, it can impact your balance and coordination. By focusing on giving your stabilizers some TLC, you can help to keep yourself upright and stable.
Another benefit of strong stabilization muscles is better posture, especially during exercise. For example, by strengthening the transverse abdominis, you naturally improve your standing and sitting posture.
Increased Strength and Power
While synergists make sure the working muscle is doing what it’s supposed to; stabilizers are in charge of proper form. In turn, this can help you generate more strength and raw power. That’s because the stabilizers provide a solid foundation for the prime movers to work from.
Reduced Risk of Injury
Weak stabilization muscles are one of the leading causes of injuries, particularly in the lower back, knees, and ankles. By strengthening these muscles, you can decrease your risk of injury.
Allows You to Go Heavy Safely
Stabilizer muscles support large muscles and won't allow your body to move out of its natural range of motion.
Think of stabilizers like the foundation of a structure. With a secure foundation, you can build on top of it without fear of toppling over.
Strong stabilizers help you go heavy, and that can mean better gains in strength and muscle.
How to Train Stabilization Muscles
As discussed, if the stabilizer muscles are weak, it can lead to a decrease in performance and an increase in your risk for injury. So, it’s time to start training them.
There are plenty of ways to train your stabilization muscles but before we get into specific equipment and acute variables, let's talk about the progression pyramid. This one concept will influence how you train and target your stabilizers.
The Progression Pyramid
Depending on where you're at right now in your fitness journey, you might not be ready for highly progressed stabilization exercises. That's where the progress pyramid comes in to help.
Personal trainers and fitness experts use this pyramid to create appropriate programs for clients, keeping them just outside of their comfort zone to see progress.
Starting with the most basic exercises, each level gets more challenging in order to systematically train stronger stabilizers.
Here’s the rundown:
- Seated exercises (beginner level)
- Standing exercises – both feet with a wide stance
- Standing exercises – both feet with a narrow stance
- Standing exercises – staggered feet at hip distance
- Standing exercises – staggered feet with both feet in line (e.g., tightrope walk)
- Standing on one leg exercises
- Standing on one leg exercises – knee raised to hip level (advanced level)
How to Use the Progression Pyramid to Train Stabilizer Muscles
The idea with the pyramid is to use your current workout, if you have one, and tweak a few exercises in order to strengthen your stabilizer muscles.
[If you don’t have a workout, use one of our military workouts to get you started.]
The progression pyramid can be used with all types of exercises from traditional strength training to plyometrics.
Let's start with the former and work through different lifting methodologies and exercises that would work best to train your stabilizers.
While the focus should be on compound movements such as squats and deadlifts, it'll be important to include some stabilizer exercises in your routine.
The way to do this is to select one or two exercises that complement the target muscle(s) for the day.
Here’s a list of stabilizers according to the target muscles:
- Anterior deltoids
- Transverse abdominis
- Lateral deltoids
- Posterior deltoids
- Quadratus lumborum
- Transverse abdominis
- Pelvic floor
- Abductor muscles
- Adductor muscles
- Gluteus medius
Now, evaluate where you are in the pyramid.
Are you just starting out? Maybe you should perform these exercises with a wide standing stance. Are you a bit more experienced? Challenge yourself by placing one foot behind the other then perform a set of 8 to 15 reps.
Plyometric exercises are a great way to train your stabilization muscles. Depending on the movement, the focus on the stabilizer is naturally built into plyometric exercises.
These exercises involve explosive movements that help to improve power but also coordination.
For example, a popular plyo movement is the single-leg calf jump, which will train the adductors and abductors.
Here are some more plyometric exercises for the stabilizers.
- Box Jump
- Single-Leg Step-Up
- Single-Leg Calf Hop
- One-Arm Push-Up
- Explosive Push-Up
- Single-Arm Ball Throw
Balance training is another great way to train your stabilization muscles. This can be done by incorporating balance boards, Bosu balls, or stability balls into your current workout.
For example, instead of doing regular squats, you can do bodyweight BOSU squats, which will dramatically challenge the stabilizers in your lower body.
Here are some exercises to try using balance training equipment:
- BOSU Squats
- BOSU Curls
- BOSU Shoulder Press
- Stability Ball Hamstring Curls
- Stability Ball Crunches
Finally, core strength training is a great way to improve the strength of your stabilization muscles. All movement originates from your core.
By focusing on your entire core, you can target some of the most important stabilizer muscles in the body.
This can be done with the following exercises:
- Ab wheel rollouts
- Hanging leg raise
- Captain's chair hip twists
- Extended (serratus) push-up
Train Your Stabilizers for Better Results
Stabilization muscles are important for more than just improving balance and proper form. They can also help to improve your strength and power while decreasing your risk of injury.
Add in one or two stabilizer exercises with each workout and it won’t take long to see all the other exercises improve.