Core training (mid line musculature) has been added to many exercise programs and the virtues of this type of training have been detailed in many media outlets, magazine articles, and also by health professionals, myself included.

However, I read an interesting article by John M Cissik, MBA, PT from the Texas Women’s University in Denton, Texas, who checked on the actual evidence of these claims in the literature.  What he found was that the evidence to support these claims is “lacking, contradictory, or taken out of context”. 

Let’s look at the 3 main areas of “benefit” from core training and then take a critical look at the literature:

Performance Improvement:  Research review in this area has, at best, produced “mixed results” with some studies showing improvement in field tests and others not.

Injury prevention:  Most of the literature in this area deals with core training and the prevention of lower back pain.  The nature of lower back is too complex to conclusively say that core training can actually “prevent” lower back pain. 

Injury treatment:  Again, most of the research is with lower back pain and it’s response to exercises including core training.  Several studies have found a positive correlation between strength training and the reduction of lower back pain.  However, the studies have many detractors who disagree with the methodology and therefore, do not take stock in the results.

So what does this all mean and how has it changed my approach to core training for myself and my patients?  The results of this literature review highlight the difficulty of studying exercises and directly relating them to performance and injury prevention/treatment.  To take performance and injury treatment and reduce them down to a simple series of exercises is far too simplistic as there are a multitude of factors that play a role in each. 

Remember, in the human developmental process, movement came first, then stability and strength! Babies are born with great flexibility, but almost no strength as even lifting their heads is difficult.  How does that translate to injury prevention/treatment and performance?  If you have ever been a patient at our clinic, you would know that finding the movement loss first is critical since you cannot strengthen tissue that is in “guarding” or “protective” mode.  Bottom line, continue with the core strengthening exercises, remembering that they are only a component of the entire fitness plan and look for areas of immobility or asymmetry and get them corrected!  Good luck and keep moving.