What is the “Core” ?
Blog kindly supplied by Sports Therapy Scotland member, Educator, Elite Weightlifter, UKSCA Coach and PT Andy Tsang
The term ‘core’ has been widely used within the strength and conditioning and rehabilitation sectors for many years. Since the early 1980s, core stability and strength have been the topics of focused research and have been extensively studied (Hibbs et al, 2008), with a focus of investigations in the 1990s looking at the timing of the trunk muscles and their relationship to low back pain. Since then, research into trunk control has become an important factor in helping scientists gain a deeper understanding of the neuromuscular reorganisation in relation to back pain and injury (Lederman, 2010). Consequent studies reinforcing the significance of having a strong core in relation to back pain and stability (Willardson, 2007; Hibbs et al, 2008; Nesser et al, 2008) have led to core stability and core training becoming a dominant research areas within the rehabilitation sector and has therefore due to publicity, gained a lot of interest in the public eye.
Another reason as to why core training has gained such popularity in recent years is due to the culture. Through media and westernization, the young adult generation that we have nowadays have been brought up to believe that in order to look good, we all need to have a 6 pack and a well-defined torso. Although there is nothing wrong with being in great shape and is, in my opinion, a good thing; it has created a generation of health and fitness enthusiasts with limited knowledge and bags of enthusiasm. Some folk who believe that core training will help with posture and health are usually executing some form of inefficient or potentially dangerous core-based exercise. Others who are obsessed with their vanity will usually result in doing some form of fancy ab crunch type manoeuvre trying to get their abs to ‘push through’ and basically just overdoing it.
Just to clarify, many people tend to associate core stability and strength with having well-defined abs. This is a flawed way of thinking as visibility of abs is more related to low levels of body fat. If you wish to achieve visible abs then you have to reduce your body fat. Many people have this misconception that as long as you do enough core exercises then your abs will show. This is not possible, and without a low level of body fat percentage, you will not have the six pack look you desire. Although core training can strengthen up your midsection and build your abdominal muscles, you will still have a layer of fat surrounding the muscle tissue. If you want to have that cover model midsection, it can only really happen if you have a sound diet and a low body fat percentage along with your training.
Back on topic – some of the coaching world myself included, try to look at the core in a different manner. We try to look at the function of the core and what it actually does in regards to motion. Since we are all living organisms and are ever changing our positions and movements; a better understanding of the core will help us to select more appropriate exercises that will positively impact our performance. If we understand more about the core and how it helps us to move or resist movement, we can in theory develop more logical ways of strengthening our core and to build it’s musculature to improve our physical qualities. Believe it or not, even though there has been heavily publicized research into core stability within the rehabilitative sector and its benefits, there has been very little research examining the sporting performance benefits of core strength training, despite its popularity in many strength and conditioning programs (Willardson, 2007; Hibbs et al, 2008; Nesser et al, 2008). To add to this, core training has also changed and evolved multiple times due to different influences and theories. Bodybuilding influences as well as research into injury prevention and sporting performance have all played part in ever changing methods creating lots of confusion surrounding the core. One of many reasons for the lack of conclusive research in this field is due to the inconsistent testing methods and is often conflicting.
Although there are many different conflicting methods to core training there are however some similarities. Most coaches agree that there is some importance of core training and how it can aid in injury prevention and improving athletic abilities even though they might disagree on the methods chosen. Although some researchers have questioned its effectiveness, especially within a sporting context, it could be that the improvements in the strength and stability of the core from low load motor control exercises facilitate indirect impacts, allowing athletes to train pain free more often (Hibbs et al 2008).
The most important factor with core training though is to ensure that you include a variety of different exercises to challenge the core in various manners for maximal results. This is key as one of the main reasons is due to the chaotic environment in which the body has to deal with resisting or assisting the many different types of motions that occur in performing movement based tasks.
Hibbs et al (2008) reiterates this by explaining that “There is not one single exercise that activates and challenges all of the core muscles; therefore, a combination of exercises is required to result in core stability and strength enhancements in an individual.”
Hibbs, A. E., Thompson, K.G., French, D., Wrigley, A., & Spears, I. (2008). Optimizing Performance by Improving Core Stability and Core Strength. Sports Medicine. 38 (12), 995-1008.
Lederman, E. (2010). The Myth Of Core Stability. Journal of Bodywork & Movement Therapies. 1 (14), 84-98.
Nesser, T. W., Huxel, K. C., Tincher, J. L., & Okada, T. (2008). The Relationship Between Core Stability And Performance In Division 1 Football Players. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 22 (6), 1750-1754.
Willardson, J. (2007). Core Stability Training: Applications To Sports Conditioning Programs. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 21 (3), 979-985.