Personal trainers; gym instructors, Pilates and yoga instructors; and exercise physiologists regularly talk of the importance of having a strong core, especially the deep muscle known as the transversus abdominis. The attention is based on the idea that activating these muscles will support the spine and therefore reduce the likelihood of developing back pain. (Bee, 2010).
The theory around activating the deep core muscles was based on a study by Professor Paul Hodges at the University of Queensland, which found that people with back problems did not activate their transversus abdominis while they performed a series of rapid arm exercises; whilst people without back problems did activate it. It wasn't a clear link and needed more study, however the fitness industry ran with it and created the phenomenon of core. Products and classes were+ developed entirely around the proviso of strengthening the transversus abdominis and other core muscles. The central message was that deeply imbedded muscle in our trunk must be strong if we are to look good, stand up straight and have bodies that move freely and without pain.
A new research report by Peta Bee, titled "Core Promises", believes that the emphasis on the deep core muscle is overinflated. He argues four main points:
1) The "draw in" or hollow out" of the stomach to activate the transversus abdominis muscle can "...destabilizes the spine by upsetting its alignment..." This reduces the stability of the back which counteracts the desired outcome of activating the core muscle in the first place. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics states that "In studies we have done, the load the spine could bear was greatly reduced when subjects sucked in their belly buttons. What happens is the muscles are bought closer to the spine, which reduces the stability in the back. It becomes weaker and wobbly as you try to move."
2) Core strength and stability do not improve functional movement. Professor Nesser (Assistant Professor of Physical Education at Indiana State University) conducted a study investigating the links between good core stability and functional movement. His findings showed there was no link.
3) There is no relationship between core strength and improved sports performance. A study by Professor Nesser on elite soccer players examined core strength and performance. People thought that core strength was essential for sports related improvements but this study found that football players with good core strength did not perform better than other football players.
4) Concentrating on the core muscles for entire sessions is a poor way to improve strength and fitness. According to American Council on Exercise, an advanced Pilates class equated to the same intensity as a steady walk. Professor Nessor says workouts need to focus on exercises that require strength, balance and stability such as squats, deadlifts and overhead lifts.
Fitnance's stance is that core strength is important but only if the rest of the body is equally strong. Deadlifts, Squats and Overhead Lifts will provide a strong core and overall body! Incorporating core strengthening exercises and putting emphasis on activating the core muscle during exercise with correct technique will not harm the client but resistance type exercise and cardio will be essential to improve the health of the whole body.
Let us know your thoughts on the importance of core stability in the comments below.