Training The Core: How a Physio Looks At Building Your Core Stability (Plus: 3 Core Stability Exercises You Can Do)

I first found Dave’s site, Hybrid Perspective, when I was researching gymnastics training for my own program.

His blend of movement science & gymnastics knowledge made me an immediate fan. I then started applying lessons he had used with his gymnasts to my own training, and eventually, trying them with my clients, and the results I got were excellent.

Dr. Dave Tilley is a former competitive gymnast, and currently works as a Physical Therapist as well as a women’s gymnastics team coach in Beverly, MA. He treats a large population of patients and athletes, but his background allows him to specialize more specifically in the treatment of gymnasts.

Here on Fit For Real Life, “moving better” is something we really care about. So I wanted to share Dave with you, and give him the stage to share some of his knowledge about how you can train better so that you move better.

In particular, I wanted to focus on one specific area with this first introduction to Dave: the truth about “Core” training.

“Core” training is still so popular, and yet, still so misunderstood and misapplied into programming. And if you want to have powerful, effortless movement, you need to address it.

Because to have a strong core is so much more than what your abdominals look like.

Having torso muscles that are strong & working well means you have less risk of low back injury. It means you’re more powerful. It means you can move through movements with optimal patterning instead of over-working one or two muscles.

And this happens to be an expertise of Dave’s…

Introducing Dave: What’s In The Core?

I picture the core as a geometric shape.

Picture a cylinder or canister with the diaphragm on top, the pelvic floor on bottom, and various muscles integrated together (obliques, deep intrinsic muscles, transverse abdonimis, multifidi, lower back extensors, etc) to make a “soup can” appearance.

So, it’s a 3-D thing- not just a section of muscle on your front side.

Image Credit: Legacy Therapy St Louis

And, when we think “core”, we have to realize that word represents a very complex system of structures working with the nervous system to both help stabilize the spinal column and also serve as the foundational centerpiece for overall movement.

Another view I like to have is that there is an “inner” deep intrinsic aspect and an “outer” more superficial core.

Although they’re virtually inseparable in their function, they tend to take on different roles when talking movement and performance.

Deeper in the core tend to be smaller muscles, playing more of a role in fine tuned adjustment between segments and also picking up on the position of the spine.

Although they are small, their importance is beyond crucial. These muscles aid in creating inter-segment stability in the spine and also giving feedback to the brain about position, force, and so on. Some span single joints while some span multiple joints.

Many people refer to this fine-tuned adjustors as “low threshold” because the muscles don’t take a lot to kick on.

We need these little guys to be automatically doing their job properly on a subconscious loop to help keep the spine dynamically stable during moving conditions.

People often misinterpret “stability” to mean “still”, but that’s not the case. Stability just refers to the ability to control joint alignment in the presence of a changing internal and external environment.

These small muscles work in conjunction with the other deep intrinsic muscles to assist in spine stability.

Image Credit: Tour Council

On the other hand the larger, “outer” and high threshold muscles of the core are those that tend to get the most attention.

These are the obliques, lower back extensors, the 6 pack muscles of the rectus abdominis, and so on. These are more the feel the burn muscles you get with planks and various other core based exercises.

Don’t get me wrong. Being both an athlete myself and also a coach I know the importance of high threshold and power through the core.

High threshold core strategies definitely assist to stabilize the spine, especially in high load situations. It’s great to work proper strength and power for the core, it just has to be done properly and in conjunction with the rest of the core’s function.

Image Credit: CrossFit Henderson

The Inner and Outer Relationship

The reason for going over these last few paragraphs was to set the stage for why paying attention to the intrinsic core is so important.

Most people are chasing aesthetics to look better which certainly is okay. But in order to keep your core performing optimally and protecting your spine, you need a balance of both low and high threshold training.

This aides to not only keep your spine in good health to get protected, but also enhances your performance if you’re choosing to get after workouts or sport training. The intrinsic core takes a different style of exercises to bias so we make sure we’re challenging the dynamic stability component.

This is in conjunction with practicing proper breathing patterns (a huge topic for another time), being aware of whole core use, and knowing how to sequence the spine with the entire body during global body movement.

Here are some of my go to low threshold and stability exercises for the core:

Dr Dave’s Top 3 Exercises For Core Stability Training

1) SLOW Bear Crawls Front, Back, and Sideways

For this start on hands and knees.

The hands go underneath the shoulders and the knees goes under or just outside the hip joints. Keep the back in a relatively neutral position, not over arched or over rounded.

From this starting position, just do a slow crawling movement 3 steps forward, then backwards, then to the right, then to the left. This just gives you the patterns and is good for beginners.

You can also just do a static bird dog or cross crawl if you would like.


Cross Crawl Video Link:


Then, to really get things interesting lift your knees about 3 inches from the floor before you craw. This way the only 4 points of contact are your hands and the balls of your toes.

Again go 3 steps forward, backward, right and left. You may find it really hard to keep good balance and that’s okay.

We want to challenge the brain and nervous system to be adapting to the changes, that’s how we learn. Be sure not to hold your breath.

Bear Crawl Video Link:


2) ½ Kneeling Press Outs

For this one, you first have to make sure you have enough mobility to get into a proper ½ kneeling position.

Being in a ½ kneeling or resting lunge position requires good hip mobility and the ability to hit a good upright posture. If you’re struggling with those mobility issues it may be good to try to manage those first.

You can use this position as a good way to increase mobility though, just working on good position and breathing. For the exercise you will need an elastic band or pulley to a stacked weight system

For the “press out” the hook will be put about chest or mid rib level, and while maintaining the good posture you will press the band straight in and out. The band should be hard enough to make you wobble and get a challenge, but not enough to really throw you off balance and make you compensate.

Video Link:


3) Tall Kneeling Chops and Lifts

These are also decisively hard. The tricky part about this is it requires the ability to get into a tall kneeling position, that you need decent anterior hip mobility for this also.

I show the gymnasts with their knees together, but you can separate them a big for starters.

You will face sideways again, and this time the elastic/pulley will either be positioned high (for chops) or low (for lifts). While keeping good alignment you will pull the band either down and across (for chops) to your opposite hip, or up and across (for lifts) to your opposite shoulders. Follow the videos below for reference.

Tall Kneeling Chops Video Link:


Tall Kneeling Lifts Video Link:

When I work in the clinic, and with the gymnasts, I prefer to do a detailed movement evaluation, find out what is the biggest problem, and then systematically start to challenge the system.

I’m personally a fan of starting all the way on the ground with rolling and reaching patterns, then working my way up to ensure we’ve built the core strong from the foundation on up.

But in lieu of getting to do an evaluation on every reader, these exercises I’ve shown here will get you started building your 3-D “core canister”.

It’s Important You Get Started With Core Stability

Developing a strong core is an important part of building The Unbreakable Body – and without a strong core, or core stability, you’ll struggle to get maximum power in the majority of your movement patterns.

This is why core movement is so important.

It supports movements that range from the simple – like bending over – to the complex – like winding up and delivering powerful kinetic energy in boxing training.

If you haven’t explored your Core Stability yet, set aside 15 minutes this week and try these 3 exercises listed above. You might be surprised to find out how strong your core is (or isn’t), and it will inspire you to build a strong, solid foundation of stability for more powerful movement patterns.



Dr. Dave Tilley is a former competitive gymnast, and currently works as a Physical Therapist as well as a women’s gymnastics team coach in Beverly, MA. you can keep up to date with him over on Hybrid Perspective’s Facebook Page, or get in contact with him over at Hybrid Perspective.

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