Core Strength

18 May 2017 | Strength & Conditioning

There is and always has been a strong focus in the health industry on proper training for our core. However much to our frustration there is a plethora of misguidance in that very industry to the point where not only are some clients not training their core properly, but they are also damaging the very structures they are trying to protect in the first place.

What is our “Core”:

Our core has three dimensional depth and functional movement in all three planes of motion. This is important to note as there are literally hundreds, possibly thousands of exercises that could be done for core strength. Many of the muscles are hidden beneath the exterior musculature people typically train (ie: your 6 pack is not exactly your core). The deeper muscles that are our true core muscles include the transverse abdominals, multifidus, diaphragm and the pelvic floor.

Your core is in place mainly to protect and hold your spine in the correct position through movement. It absorbs forces placed on the back instead of the passive structures such as your vertebral discs so as they do not wear out or get damaged. For example, if were to lit a heavy object without engaging your core correctly, then your spine would take most of the brunt. Inversely if you were to engage your core with the exact same lift which would look exactly the same externally, then your core will absorb most of that weight and force, thus reducing the potentially damaging stimulus to the spine and its vital structures.

Think of it this way, your knee has muscle above and below it to absorb forces when you jump off something and land on the ground…without it your knee would most likely crumple. In this same way your core does the same thing for your pelvis, spine and upper body.

Core Strength vs Core Endurance:

Muscular strength is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert force to overcome the most resistance in one effort. Strength can be measured based on the amount of weight lifted. Relative strength is based on a ratio of weight lifted to body weight. For example, if two people lifted the same weight, the person who weighs less has greater relative strength.

Muscular endurance is the ability of a muscle or muscle group to exert force to overcome a resistance many times without rest. The measurement of muscular endurance is based on the number of repetitions performed or the amount of time taken overall. Muscular endurance is specific to the assessment and there are many different forms. For example, if we think of the leg muscles as a whole, long distance running is an activity that relies on muscular endurance, whereas if you were to squat down and lift a heavy pot up onto a shelf, then this would be a use of leg strength.

What am I getting at?? Many people/ professionals focus on the “strength” of the core rather than the much needed functional endurance. In life our core needs to have enough endurance to last a whole day worth of activity, and not just a few single bursts of strength. Yes the strength component is also important, however you must also train the endurance of the muscle. If you think of the simple act of weeding the garden, it takes repetitive uses of your core and external back muscles to stabilise the spine. Depending on the extent of your weeding problem it could take you hours. Now if your muscles only have the ability to do strong, single burst of force, then they will surely run out of energy to stabilise the spine quite quickly, therefore the force will move to the spine and your spine will eventually fail (you may have heard of disc bulges).

Core exercises:

It is important to note that there are many, many core exercises that all have their merit. Therefore I will provide you with some examples of the most diverse and easier to do exercises.


Plank is a good isometric stabilising core exercise that you can perform at home. In order to do this

  1. Start by getting into a press up position.
  2. Bend your elbows and rest your weight onto your forearms.
  3. Your body should form a straight line from shoulders to ankles.
  4. Engage your core by contracting your pelvic floor and tightening your midsection.
  5. Hold this position for the prescribed time.
Swiss ball roll out:

Swiss ball roll out (on featured video), is slightly advanced but very effective

  1. Start by stabilising yourself on the swiss ball in a plank position
  2. Slowly roll the ball forward on your elbows as far forward as you can handle.
  3. Engage your core by contracting your pelvic floor and tightening your midsection.
  4. Return back to start position.
Russian Twist:
  1. Sit on the floor with your knees bent and feet just hovering off the floor.
  2. Lean back until you are at a comfortable but challenging angle for your abs.
  3. Keep your spine straight and not rounded.
  4. Engage your core by contracting your pelvic floor and tightening your midsection.
  5. Twist your midsection from side to side whilst keeping your core active.

IMPORTANT!!!  It is important to note that these two exercises are only a guide. In order to properly engage your core you will usually need a professional to confirm that you are actually using the right muscles and not the wrong ones. For this reason I cant provide more exercises, although I know you would like me to (sorry :). So seek the proper advice on how to properly engage your core and then you can turn almost any body movement into a core exercise. That’s the beauty of the core, when it is working properly it will be involved in almost all exercises in the gym unless you are sitting down with a back rest.

In general you need to train both strength and endurance of the core muscles to give you the best chance to maintain a healthy, injury free body. A well trained Physiotherapist or Exercise Physiologist will be able to write a program for you to be able to train this optimally. Our highly trained professionals at Holistic Physio Fitness will be able guide you through a proper core training program whether you are injured or not.