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The Core Issue

This is something that I get asked reasonably often and it’s something the patients often mention in passing while discussing their cases. They all t

alk about strengthening and working on the core and it got me thinking… How many actually know what the core is and how it affects our movement patterns? The core is made up of a complex set of muscles that can act as static or dynamic stabilisers depending on the movements we would like to accomplish. However, its primary role is to act as a stabiliser and force transfer centre (1).

The core can be viewed similarly to a box, except it’s full of muscles (2). These muscles comprise of the abdominals (more specifically the internal and external obliques and Transversus abdominus. I am hesitant to include the Rectus abdominus or “six pack” but it does fall in here), gluteals, diaphragm, and lumbar spine (lower back) paraspinals (2). As you can see, the core is made up of a variety of different muscles that act in different ways to transfer forces and stabilise the spine during movement.

Because the core has a variety of muscles that it comprises of, this then requires the person to do a variety of exercises, in different ways to strengthen the core. Many people only do the required sit-ups (or crunches) and believe that this would help strengthen the core. Unfortunately (as shown above), you only really working once muscle of a specific group. Research has shown (2, 3) that sit-ups and crunches are ineffective in working the other core muscles and that a variety of exercises is crucial to effectively work through all muscles.

However, in general, no one-exercise can target a specific muscle group. Your body will always require activation of multiple muscles to help stabilise and move your body while performing the exercise. This is evident, particularly in exercises that require the use of free weights (squats, overhead presses, loaded carries etc). All of these require the stabilisation of the spine and core to effectively transfer the forces generated to the required muscles.

So, the question you may then be asking is… what exercises do I then do to strengthen? The answer… as much of a variety as is possible! And that includes using free weights. Our bodies tend to become accustomed and habituated to the things we do and by mixing things up, your body is required to adapt all the time.


1. Kuhland, J. Do you know what your core really is and what it does https://breakingmuscle.com/learn/do-you-know-what-your-core-really-is-and-what-it-does. Accessed 15 May 2017.

2. Akuthota, V., Ferreiro, A., Moore, T., and Fredericson, M. (2008). Core Stability Exercise Principles. Current Sports Medicine Reports, 7(1): p39-44.

3. Escamilla, R.F., Lewis, C., Bell, D., Bramblet, G., Daffron, J., Lambert, S., Pecson, A., Imamura, R., Paulos, L., and Andrews, J.R. (2010). Core muscle activation during swiss ball and traditional abdominal exercises. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 40(5): p265-276.

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