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Truth on Fitness: Are We Mystified by the Core?


 The Core and Six-pack abs

Part I: Definition

Recently, the fitness industry has been obsessed with the core.  Almost every piece of fitness equipment or workout plan promises to deliver ‘six pack’ abs.  In addition, many in the industry have began to emphasize how a strong core is critical for increasing one’s abilities to perform activities of daily living, improving athletic performance, and even preventing injury.  Is the allure of having a six pack mystifying us about the importance of core training?  Having visible core musculature is primarily a function of body fat percentage, and simply performing core exercises alone will not reduce abdominal fat (Vispute et al. 2011).  Having a low percentage body fat means that one is likely to have visible core muscles, despite what the strength of those particular muscles may be.  If core focused exercises alone won’t lead to a six pack, will they improve functional outcomes?

This three part series will be an evidence-based discussion related to the core, core strength and stability, and functional outcomes.  This series will be outlined in the following way: Part I will attempt to define the core, as well as core strength, stability, and endurance; Part II will discuss the current tests utilized to quantify these metrics, as well as their limitations; Part III will discuss the current body of evidence in an attempt to define a link between the core and athletic performance.  There is a significant amount of disagreement in defining and quantifying the core and its function; many authors use terms such as core strength and stability interchangeably, which only adds to the inconsistency.  Therefore, Part I will attempt to define these terms and the issues related to them.

Click here to read the full article.

Cory L. Hofmann, M.S.

Research Project Manager, Cybex Research Institute

Cybex is a provider and manufacturer of premium commercial fitness equipment.  Content featured in the Cybex Fitness Blog is meant to inspire healthy living and wellness and should not be taken as medical advice. For medical advice please consult a doctor. 

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I think another interesting aspect when talking about the "core" is what muscles are the core? Most people think of just the abdominal muscles. After working with athletes for years it seems that the lower back is over looked in the discussion of core. Also another thing to possibly look at is does horizontal core training like planks etc. translate to core stability/strength in the vertical position? It seems like many core exercises are becoming more complex than effective.
Posted @ Thursday, October 18, 2012 8:43 AM by Michael J
100% agree. That's why a good core training always includes at least one lower back exercise like "Good Morning" or Lower Back Extension.  
Besides, even if you have a low fat percentage and we can see your six pack, If your abs aren't strong, it won't look as good as if they were.
Posted @ Thursday, October 18, 2012 2:57 PM by DARVILLE Sylvain
@Michael: You are correct, the 'core' is much more complex than simply the abdominals. You bring up a great question related to the specificity of the the training. In Part 2 of the series I discuss several tests used to measure core function, but it is not well understood how a specific test will translate to a very different function (like your example of horizontal planks and vertical stability). The loading conditions of body weight will certainly be different in a horizontal vs. vertical condition. 
@Darville Good points as well. 
Thanks to you both for contributing to the discussion. Hope you enjoy the upcoming two parts of the series.
Posted @ Thursday, October 25, 2012 12:36 PM by Cory Hofmann
Can we just get rid of the term "Core" and strengthen specific muscles? If we go to the Gold Standard of Anatomy Books "Grey's Anatomy" and look up "Core", it is nowhere to be found. This industry would be more professional if it would stop making up terms like "Core", so it is easier to sell things, and learn the real names of the muscles and prescribe exercises such muscles rather then an ambiguous area of the body. 
Dwayne Wimmer 
Vertex Fitness Personal Training Studio
Posted @ Wednesday, October 31, 2012 4:34 PM by Dwayne Wimmer
Well after been in the fitness industry for over 30 years.I would have to disagree with you,I've been there, the hard muscular body many years ago as a bodybuilder. Yes I did look good and strong as a bull ,but after all these years, I wish I would of known more about the core training system then,as I probably would of had a lot less injuries,you know guy's things are changing in the fitness industry,were ivolving and lerning more about the human body,its call education and science , Old shcool training is done,I know I know! it took me a while to change to, but core training and functional trainig is in,the days of the old school training is done,specialy with single plane machines,and sagital plane movement exercise,I won't get in to specifics. And since when is visible muscle like your abs conciderd core muscles? Hats off for the person that came up with this name it just simplifies all your innercore muscle,wich are hardly work on iven when doing exercises like dead lift and the famous bench press, these are single plane movements exercices that focus more on your primary muscle group and creat inbalances on yours skeletal muscle like your small core muscles or what's a other name that we call them "secendary or "stabaliser muscles group!! witch they are not just conected to your abdomidal wall and truck muscle, there conected from your head right down to your toes,and just focusing your workouts for your big muscles will eventulaly lead you in to a nice big injury.So yes doing more "Core exercice" like planks,multiplane movements and free motion and balancing exercises will give you a much stronger body in the long run,and just to point out doing Crunches dont work you core!!! Remember our bodys were disign to move freely, we were not design to be confine to a machine or to do improper movement patenrs. We were design to move period.
Posted @ Wednesday, October 31, 2012 11:38 PM by Mike Cstilloux
@Dwayne: This is a great reply. While it is true that the word core does not appear in traditional texts, it is used quite often in the fitness world and even the scientific literature. So we felt the need to at least attempt to define it since, as you correctly point out, it is an ambiguous term. We simply choose to use it as a regional term to define a collection of musculature. 
@Mike: It is pretty well established that muscles of the 'core', especially the erector spinae, are trained during the dead lift. You bring up some interesting opinions related to single plane exercises being bad and causing injury, would you willing to share some references or studies that could help confirm this? If we are designed to 'move period', why do you suggest we perform an exercise like the plank, which is motionless? Also, what is an improper movement pattern? How would you define the 'core' if you feel confident enough to state that crunches do not train the core? 
Thanks to you both for contributing to the discussion!
Posted @ Thursday, November 01, 2012 8:55 AM by Cory Hofmann
I see how core strength can contribute to better performance in general, but yet fail to understand how movement or position specific motor learning skills would do so as well. I've come to understand that stability is very specific. Take for example the barbell and dumbbell bench press. Both exercises require a great degree of stability, but weight distribution and freedom of movement vary and thus, both require a different set of skills although relying on the same foundation of strength. I'll be looking forward to part 2 of your series as I keep an open mind.
Posted @ Thursday, November 01, 2012 9:14 AM by Daniël Niks
I respect your opinion and love having intelligent conversations with people such as yourself. 
The flaw in functional training is that the way it is applied is skill training rather than strength training. Muscles create a force that is transferred to bones which then creates movement. Movements can not get stronger, muscles can. Movement comes from that ability to create enough force to overcome a specific resistance. With different leverage we can create the same movement patterns with different muscles. So focusing on the movement is putting the cart before the horse. One needs to look at how the movement is created and what muscles are doing the work and/or can do the work. Then teach the inauguration of the muscles to then move more biomechanically sound. To just work on movement may reinforce unsound biomechanics and exacerbate problems that could lead to injury. 
"Core Stability" can be looked at in the same light as "Functional Training". The "Core" is made of muscles, it isn't a muscle it is a region, which is not well defined. I have a problem with the term "Rotator Cuff" for the same reason. The Core is no more or less important to human movement then the Quadriceps or Biceps. The body works as a unit and should be strengthened equally. Unfortunately when we train the body in using "Functional" movements or multi plane movements we are learning the skill of doing work and may be under developing the so called "Small", "Stabilizer" or "Secondary" muscles. By doing these types of movements it really does the opposite of the intended outcome. Check out some this research "The myth of core stability" by Eyal Lederman and can be found at 
In summary, I believe we must not simplify things by creating new words for regions of the body that are not well defined. As a profession the fitness industry needs to become more specific in what we talk about and educate the general public. Education is a process in which we take a large concept and narrow it down to the specifics, not the other way. The industry as a whole needs to stop just giving people what they want but rather guide them and educate them to what they need. "Functional Training" and "Core Stability" exercise, as they have been implemented in the fitness industry, are entertainment, at best and filled with the potential for injury, with little to no real life benefit. The first rule of exercise should always be safety. Safety should always trump everything else.  
Yes, I see that the word "Core" is being used more and more in our industry, but to my point, I don't believe it is a good way of describing what we are truly trying to describe. It is way too general over simplified and misinterpreted. I understand where you are trying to take your article, and I think we are on a similar page. But trying to take a general term like "Core" and define it with more specific terms seems like the word gets in the way of specific terms. If the fitness industry is to progress to be a true profession, it needs to do a better job of being more specific and less general. This takes a lot of effort and education, most individuals I have met, don't want to do take the time it take to educate the general public. They would rather take what is in the industry, dummy it down so they can sell it and make "Easy" money. Rather then take the time to teach Safe, Efficient, Effective, Evidence Based Exercise. There is evidence based, proven science about exercise and there is made up pseudoscience. The industry is moving away from science that is proven and more to pseudoscience. This pseudoscience is easier to sell by people who are less then professionals (they can WOW people with made up terms), it is easier to give people what they want rather then what they need. Bottom line, we have health clubs and personal trainers who put making money before the betterment of their client base. I think the true professionals in this industry will eventually prevail and be able to teach proven science and also make money. But until then the general public will have to sift through the "Snake Oil" and hopefully no one will get hurt, too bad.
Posted @ Thursday, November 01, 2012 9:40 AM by Dwayne Wimmer
@ Daniel 
You bring up some good points. I address these topics in the final two parts of my series. 
I understand your point, but would just like to point out that the ‘rotator cuff’ is well defined. As per Grey’s, it is the specific four muscles (the ‘S.I.T.S.’) responsible for stabilizing the glenohumeral joint. We attempt to make this same distinction for the core: it is not a specific region, but the muscles that are responsible for controlling the position of the trunk and pelvis (which happen to primarily fall within a specific region.) In this way, we feel it is valuable to provide a specific description to a word that many are subjected to frequently, not just in popular culture, but even in the scientific literature. 
Thanks for reading, and I hope you all enjoy the remainder of the series. 
Posted @ Tuesday, November 06, 2012 8:08 AM by Cory Hofmann
Core are basically the muscles which need to be worked out. They are not necessarily abdominal muscles. 
Core Stability and core workouts can be looked at in the same light as Functional Training. The "Core" is made of muscles, it isn't a muscle it is a region, which is not well defined.The Core is no more or less important to human movement then the Quadriceps or Biceps. The body works as a unit and should be strengthened equally.
Posted @ Thursday, September 12, 2013 4:56 AM by Jeet Chowhan
The focus on core in most of the fitness centers is nothing but the concept of showing and selling. The more you show the better you sell. But looking at this from a users point of view it can be said that we should not demand to get a six pack stuff from the fitness center better we should tell them to keep us fit and that is what the fitness centers were used. Even people having these muscular body do get ill but the people with a good fitness can prevent and get recovered faster. So its more important to keep fit then to keep six pack apps. Good Diet and proper training is the only way to keep healthy.
Posted @ Thursday, March 20, 2014 7:10 AM by Paul
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