Is core stability a con?

Core stability training has become accepted as an integral part of sports conditioning. But just how effective is it?


The core stabiliser muscles are mostly deeply placed muscles whose job it is to stabilise the joints and maintain correct anatomical alignment, while the bigger, more powerful mobiliser muscles do their stuff during activity.  


In particular, core muscles help anchor and ‘lock’ the vertebrae of the spine in the correct position, thus protecting the back from injury during movements of the trunk. They’re also active when the body is stationary, such as when standing upright to maintain correct posture.  

Over time, these core stabiliser muscles can become weaker and less active for a number of reasons, such as inactivity, poor posture or – the most common reason in athletes – because of injury.  

Weak core muscles can soon lead to dysfunctional movement patterns that increase the risk of further injury. The theory behind core stability training is to train the core muscles to function optimally in order to help prevent injury and to correct any dysfunctional movement patterns.  

Patchy evidence

Unfortunately, the evidence for the benefits of core training is far from clear-cut. US scientists have found that collegiate athletes who participated in a core-strengthening programme experienced no significant reduction in back pain compared to those that didn’t.

Additionally, Australian scientists found that, although core training on a stability ball increased measures of core stability in runners, no changes were observed in activity of the abdominal and back muscles, maximum aerobic power, running economy or running posture.  

A similar study examined the effects of a six-week stability ball-training programme on swimming performance and, although it reported improved core stability, again there was no enhancement of swimming performance.  

In another study, the link between core muscle strength and sports performance in 29 collegiate football players was found to be moderate to poor.

The follow-up study also found that while there was some correlation between core strength and isolated strength measures, there was no correlation between core strength and functional movement.   Benefits It’s not all negative news, though.

A study of 41 female athletes showed that six weeks of plyometric, core strengthening, balance, resistance and speed training reduced the risk of knee injury. But it’s difficult to know which of these training components helped.  

Meanwhile, core training for Australian cricketers consisting of multifidus, transversus abdominis and pelvic floor exercises resulted in an improvement in multifidus muscle strength and a subsequent decrease in back pain.


Finally, a study on the effects of abdominal stabilisation manoeuvres on spinal stability found that performing the abdominal bracing manoeuvre prior to trunk movement was effective in reducing spinal motion. But as you can see, there’s still much debate about just how effective core training is