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March 4, 2011 / Angela McCuiston

3 Exercises + 1 for Core Strength and Stability

As I was reading through my Google Reader this morning, I came across this blog post: 3 Stability Exercises to Strengthen Core Muscles. (I’m going to use her images here, I give her credit for finding them!)  As I was reading I thought “what a great idea for flutists!”  Americans as a whole are horrifically lacking in core stability.  We sit for most of the day, hunched over, with our spines in flexed positions and our heads jutted forward, our hip flexors are shortened and to make a long story short: we force our bodies to keep us upright using muscles that were not meant to be used, and our core muscles (which ARE meant for just that purpose of keeping us upright) get weak.

Every musician needs a strong core, and by strong core I don’t mean rock hard abs and a visible six-pack.  The core is made up of several muscles, the diaphragm, transverse and rectus abdominals, obliques, and back muscles: mutifidus, erector spinae and QL and your pelvic floor muscles, among others.  These muscles serve to keep your internal organs in place, your body upright and in balance and if you play a wind instrument, like flute, your core has to be strong to support all that internal pressure you are creating.

Side note:

Let’s talk about support for a minute.  What does that vague word “support” really mean?  Can my diaphragm do the work?  To clear things up, your diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscles that cuts across the entire middle of your body and serves most basically to facilitate breathing.  More on that later.  It is an involuntary muscle, meaning, it cannot be consciously controlled (under most circumstances).  Support, therefore, does not come from the diaphragm.  What is meant by “breathe from the diaphragm” is to breathe low, your belly should move outward, instead of “shallow breathing” where your shoulders move upwards.
Support is basically where you take in a deep breath, and notice how the waistband of your bands moves outward.  When you breathe out (through your flute embochure) you need to keep the waistband of your pants out.  You are not pushing out, rather you are keeping the natural tension that is there from breathing in.  THIS is support and keeps your throat, lips and face muscles free from tension.

So, now that we understand support and can see why a strong core is beneficial, what are these exercises?  Well, let me show you.  I have done all of these myself and actually love them.  They are a lot more difficult than they look, but give them a shot and see if you don’t enjoy them, too!

Vertical Pallof  Press

You may have heard of the Pallof Press, which consists of pressing outward, this version presses upward.  Nick Tuminello shows his version.

Band Hip Rotations

The goal here is to not twist too much, and to brace your abs against flinging to either side and using your core muscles to contract to twist you.

Standing Cable Anti-Rotation  Chop

This is similar to the exercise above, but you twist even less.  You use your arms to move and your abs to brace against movement.

Just because I’m a rebel, I thought I’d add one more and show you the Palloff Press. You’ve seen the vertical, now see the original!  Notice how the body is not moving?  The more weight you add, the more difficult this becomes.  You are using your abdominal muscles to brace you and keep you from moving.

You do not need a “core workout” or a dedicated “core day”.  Just put 1-2 core exercises of 1-2 sets  in your workout each day that you lift and you will be doing just fine.  You can also do these at home if you have bands, you do not even need a cable station.  Just get a selection of bands and tie them to a door knob or put them in the door frame.  The JC travel bands are fantastic for this!

Let me hear your thoughts…have you tried these?



Leave a Comment
  1. Mike / Jan 27 2013 4:14 PM

    Any additional thoughts for someone with a damaged diaphragm. My right frenic nerve is dead; thus, the left diaphragm doesn’t function. It especially impacts projecting my voice.

    • Angela McCuiston / Apr 24 2013 9:38 PM

      I hesitate to say much Mike, as I am not a medical practitioner or physical therapist, though I know nerve damage is pretty serious. Have you tried deep diaphragmatic breathing? Patrick Ward ( has some good information there. Dr. Craig Liebenson ( might have some info as well Best wishes!

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