The Stabilizer Muscles Used in Exercise

woman in warrior 1 yoga pose

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Good form is different for every exercise, but a big part of doing exercises the right way is by being able to stabilize your body. For example, even a simple biceps curl requires your shoulders to stay stabilized as you curl the weight towards the shoulders. You need to make sure your core and shoulder blades are activated as you perform the movement.

Think about other exercises like squats. You're primarily working the glutes and quads, depending on the type of squat you're doing, but there are also stabilizer muscles working in conjunction to keep your body moving on the right path. Your hamstrings, calves, lower back, abs, and obliques all act to keep everything going in the right direction.

Your Stabilizer Muscles

There aren't specific stabilizer muscles in the body. The name simply describes exactly what these muscles do.

In any movement, stabilizer muscles act to stabilize one joint so the desired movement can be performed in another joint. These muscles usually aren't directly involved in a movement, but work to keep you steady so that your primary muscles can do their job.

Another example might be chest press on an exercise ball, the primary muscles working include the chest and triceps, but the abs, back, and legs work isometrically to stabilize your body.

That means just doing one exercise requires multiple muscles to fire at the same time. Strengthening those muscles will not only help your form, but it also increases your ability to balance and your coordination. The good news is, it's very easy to train your stabilizer muscles during your regular workouts.

How to Increase Your Stability

If you're a beginning exerciser, balance and stability may be a challenge, which is a great reason to focus on these areas of fitness before moving on to more challenging workouts.

There's a natural progression of stability, depending on where you're starting:

  1. Do the Exercises Seated: While you're seated, you have support for your lower body, so you don't have to work as hard to stabilize.
  2. Do the Exercises While Standing: As soon as you stand, you involve the entire body in the exercise because you've taken away any support. Now your body has to support itself while you do the exercise.
  3. Stand in a Wide Stance: When you stand in a wide stance, you increase your base of support, making you feel more balanced and stable.
  4. Stand in a Narrow Stance: Bring your feet closer and you'll feel less stable, thus triggering your stabilizer muscles to kick in.
  5. Stagger Your Feet: The next progression is to stand in a staggered position, with one foot just a bit behind the other. This immediately challenges your balance as that stable base is no longer there.
  6. Split Stance: Now try standing in a split stance where one foot is in front of the other, feet are about 3 or so feet apart. This is the same stance you use during a lunge and, again, much more challenging to your balance than a wide stance or staggered stance.
  7. Tandem Stance: This is like standing on a balance beam, with one foot in front of the other. Try doing an exercise in this position and you'll really challenge your balance.
  8. Stand on One Leg: The final progression is to stand on one leg while exercising. You'll notice that every muscle in the body will contract to help keep your balance.

Balance and Stability Exercises

If you want to increase balance and stability, the only way is to work on it on a regular basis.

Simple Balance Exercises

You don't even need to exercise to improve your balance and stability. Try practicing some of the moves below several times a day. Stay next to a wall at first if you need help balancing. As you improve step away from the wall.

  • Stand on one leg
  • While standing on one leg slowly turn your head from side to side
  • Stand on one leg and slowly circle your opposite arm in a big circle
  • While standing on one leg, close your eyes
  • Try walking across the floor with one foot in front of the other, like you're on a balance beam
  • Walk across the room on your toes
  • Walk across the room on your heels

More Advanced Balance and Stability Exercises

Incorporating these exercises into your usual routine is a great way to work on your balance while also working on strength, endurance, and flexibility.

Balance and Stability Workouts

The following workouts include a variety of balance and stability gear that will help you work on balance, stability, and core strength—all things that will strengthen your stabilizer muscles as well as increase your coordination:

Even just incorporating an exercise ball into your routine—sitting on it, using it as a weight bench, or doing core work, is a great way to work on those stabilizer muscles without having to think about it.

Try sitting on the ball and rolling around while watching TV or sit on it while you work at a computer. Even just a few minutes a day can make a difference. You'll find that strengthening those muscles and improving your balance will spill out into other areas of your life as well.

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Article Sources
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  1. Hamed A, Bohm S, Mersmann F, Arampatzis A. Exercises of dynamic stability under unstable conditions increase muscle strength and balance ability in the elderlyScand J Med Sci Sports. 2018;28(3):961–971. doi:10.1111/sms.13019

  2. Hafström A, Malmström EM, Terdèn J, Fransson PA, Magnusson M. Improved balance confidence and stability for elderly after 6 weeks of a multimodal self-administered balance-enhancing exercise program: A randomized single arm crossover studyGerontol Geriatr Med. 2016;2:2333721416644149. doi:10.1177/2333721416644149

  3. Carter JM, Beam WC, McMahan SG, Barr ML, Brown LE. The effects of stability ball training on spinal stability in sedentary individualsJ Strength Cond Res. 2006;20(2):429–435. doi:10.1519/R-18125.1

Additional Reading
  • Gamble P et al. 2007.  An Integrated Approach to Training Core Stability. Strength and Conditioning Journal: 29(1):58-68.
  • Nesser TW, Fleming N, Gage MJ. Activation of Selected Core Muscles during Squatting. Journal of Athletic Enhancement. 2017;2016. doi:10.4172/2324-9080.1000222.