An article by Professor Lederman (2010) entitled “The Myth of Core Stability” raised serious questions regarding the efficacy of prescribing core stability exercises for patients with back pain. This was a controversial paper at the time and has been hotly debated over the last 2-3 years, with Pilates advocates jumping to the defense of core training. If your interested in core stability I highly recommend you read Lederman’s paper
I have summarized below the major conclusions from the article:
1. The division of the trunk into core and global muscle systems is a reductionist fantasy – these muscle groups work together to stabilize the spine and it is next to impossible (and pointless as it wouldn’t be functional!) to isolate these individual muscles.
2. Weak or dysfunctional abdominal muscles will not lead to back pain.
3. Tensing the trunk muscles is unlikely to provide any protection against back pain or reduce the recurrence of back pain.
4. Core stability exercises are no more effective than, and will not prevent injury more than, any other forms of exercise.
5. There may be potential danger of damaging the spine with continuous tensing of the trunk muscles during daily and sports activities.
It would appear that core stability training is no more effective in treating or preventing back pain than any other form of exercise and, if performed incorrectly, may be injurious to the spine. Indeed, the improvements in back pain seen with core stability programs is more than likely due to the positive effect of exercise rather than any improvement in spinal stability. With this in mind, why perform complex core exercises, that can often be dull and monotonous, when general exercise is just as effective at treating and preventing back pain. My advice, whether injured or not, is to find a sport or exercise that you enjoy and perform this on a regular basis. This is likely to be a lot more fun, more effective, and easier to sustain over a longer period of time!
So what about training your core to improve sports performance?
When training to improve any activity, we must practice that specific activity. For instance, if we want to learn to play the guitar we must practice playing the guitar, or if we want to improve at football we must practice with a ball – this is the specificity principle of training. So will performing core exercises, lying on your back, improve your performance? Well, it’s likely to improve your performance of those specific exercises, but unlikely to have any knock on effect to your overall sporting performance.
The muscle activation for trunk control is different for each specific activity we perform i.e. the trunk control required for throwing a ball is different to the trunk control required for swimming and there is no one specific exercise (or series of exercises) that will meet all the needs of every sporting activity. So is it possible to train trunk control specifically for an individual sport? Yes, but you need to forget about the notion of trying to isolate your core muscles through specific core stability exercises and instead focus on sports specific training. As you play and train in your sport, your trunk muscles will adapt and strengthen in line with the specific requirements of that sport.