Womens Wellness

Strengthening Core

Strengthening Core
A recent article in the New York Times asks “Are Crunches Worth the Effort”?  The article refers to a study conducted at Indiana State University, which suggests that training the “core” does not necessarily contribute to improved athletic or physical performance.


As a teacher, trainer, and exercise physiologist reading an article like this in a publication such as the Times is terribly frustrating because there is such tremendous LACK of information.

First, does this author or any she referrenced actually identify “the core”?  In the world of Pilates and Physical Therapy in general, the muscles that we describe as “the core” are NOT the prime movers in “crunches”.

We describe the core muscles as the diaphragm, pelvic floor, transversus abdominis and the multifidi.  The function of these muscles acting together is to provided stability for the spine.  In doing so, like the hub of a wheel, strong core muscles allow us to move more effectively and efficiently.

The Times article then refers to a study from the University of Hong Kong in which rowers who “rigorously trained” the core did not experience improved rowing performance.   As it turns out, the evaluations that were used to assess “core” did not actually assess the muscles I mentioned above.  Instead they measured the more external abdominal muscles (internal and external obliques, and rectus abdominis). 

While these muscles are important to rowing, they are not what we consider “the core”.  

The problem it seems with research on this topic is that studies do not seek to define exactly what “the core” is, how they intend to train it , or how they can ensure the subjects actually effectively utilize the core.

Understanding how to engage your core is an on-going and evolving process.  It takes a skilled teacher and observer to communicate to someone how to achieve core control and assure that it is happening during movement.

I hope this type of article won’t discourage you from seeking improved life performance with core strength and control.  Once you “get it” in your body, it will make a huge and significant difference in your life – for life.

Good luck!

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