“Core” is a 4 letter word. Core stability mythbusting

March 17, 2017

Core Stability. Everyone wants it, worries if they have it, works hard to get it.

Serious question – What is it?

How would you answer that? Have a go.

Since, in gyms around the world, people are trying to get good “core stability” the natural inference is that they don’t have it. If something isn’t stable, what is it?


What do you think your brain is going to do if you keep telling it your back is unstable?

There is zero chance it will let you use it properly.

Core stability came out of research into the back that showed certain deep muscles become weak and lazy with pain. They reasoned that if they were stronger, or you made sure they were working, pain would stop.

But it didn’t.

In fact, consciously precontracting muscles in your back increases compressive loads – a trigger for back pain.

How many exercises programs or classes teach you to “turn on your core” – millions. On foam mats around the country people are concentrating as hard as they can on turning these individual muscles on, being told this is good for them. But it’s not. This leads to a stiff back, not a strong back.

In the sporting arena a rigid spine is fairly useless most of the time.

If you are deadlifting 4 times your bodyweight, then yeah you probably don’t want to be moving your back.

Ever seen a pro surfing competition. Or Olympic gymnastics. Those spines aren’t rigid.

The reason people see benefits of strengthening/core classes/Pilates/whatever is because they are MOVING, using the spine in different ways and exposing the nervous system to a more varied load and range of motion than most of us get with work or life. Exercise is fantastic. But, especially for pain, it doesn’t matter what it is. Just do enough of it and gradually progress it.

In terms of the best “core” exercise – forget it. Specificity of training dictates that to be good at something, you need to practice the something. If you want to be good at the trombone, don’t practice the trumpet.

So if you like yogalates, do yogalates. But it’s not going to turn you into a sub-20 parkrunner.

We need to progress our treatment and conditioning as science dictates.

So whether it is after pain, for performance or after pregnancy or surgery, exercise, strengthen, move, load, whatever you like. Think about what you want to do and do it.

Come and see us here at Newcastle Performance Physio to work out a program, particularly if you are in pain or have a specific goal.

And remember the many myths surrounding the concept of core stability.

  1. That there even is a core. There is a spine. No core. Human, not apple.
  2. The spine is inherently weak and needs reinforcing
  3. More “core” strength means better performance
  4. More “core” strength means less back pain.
  5. Individual muscles, working in isolation, control the function of your spine
  6. You need to consciously contract these muscles to make sure they turn on
  7. Specific exercise regimes are the best for your “core”
  8. You have to do specific “core” exercises

Have a listen to everyone’s favourite curly-haired genius – Peter O’Sullivan

Keep strengthening, keep moving, keep training, keep improving. Stop worrying about your core.

If this is scary, threatening, confusing, earth-shattering, vomit-inducing get in touch. Challenge, argue, debate to your hearts content.

Until next time