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Core Strengthening Exercises: What's Better Isolated Ab Work Or Integrated Movement?

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 17 August 2021
Hits: 2013

For a long time I have been discussing the value of using a more integrated and functional approach to strengthening the core, versus the traditional and more popular method of isolating the abdominal muscles with a multitude of floor exercises. My argument has always been that the activation of the abdominal muscles is more consistent with their “true function” when using integrated movements and are more effective at improving movement efficiency and joint stability. The argument against my point is that these exercises may not truly strengthen the muscles of the core to their full potential, leaving you exposed to weakness and injury. You cannot feel your abs burn during a squat or a deadlift but you can during a plank so the plank must be better is the logic most people explain. To put this argument to rest I decided to share with you some important research and studies that have investigated this debate before, and give you my thoughts of how I use this information to guide me with exercise prescription.

Is Weakness With The Core All About Stronger Abs?

When conducting research about what are the best exercises for the core, there was an overwhelming number of journals and information relating to isolated abdominal exercises. Some of the best researchers focus extremely well on what muscles should fire and the best way to target them in order to strengthen them correctly. Much of this research points towards variations of crunches, planks, and leg lifts to effectively strengthen all parts of the abdominal region. The big problem with all this research is that it assumes two critical things automatically occur.

  1. Firstly it assumes you know how to move correctly.
  2. Secondly it assumes you have adequate mobility at both the hip and thoracic region where mobility restrictions compromise stability at the lumbar spine.

Strengthening the abdominal muscles in isolation without these key ingredients is pointless, for your body will instantly sacrifice any stability it has when you try to move in a standing position. When you work with people suffering with back pain 90% of the time both of these critical factors are missing, which is often the reason they are in so much pain. Their body is constantly compensating in order for them to move in daily life.

If you are using isolated abdominal training in combination with correct functional movement skills, and maintaining adequate mobility at the hips and thoracic, I could see how these exercises could be beneficial. However, I would argue why do you even need isolated exercises if you can already complete more advanced integrated movement? More on this later.

Before we dig deep into that question we should explain exactly what the core is.

What is The Core?

The CORE is really a combination of both small stabilizing muscles known as the Inner Unit, combined with large prime mover muscles that operate like a series of complex chains and systems to provide stiffness on a greater scale. This known as the Outer Unit. True core strength requires the use of both.

The inner unit is incorporated in almost every movement of the human body. These muscles can act as an isometric or dynamic stabilizer for movement, transfer force from one extremity to another, or initiate movement itself. The role of the inner unit is to stabilize the spine. These deep abdominal stabilizers (inner unit) are actually quite small and unable to generate much force in comparison to the larger exterior muscles. The stabilizers are mainly concerned with providing joint stiffness and segmental stability. Their work is what you would classify as low level activity needed for long periods of time.

These muscles include:

  1. Transversus abdominous
  2. Multifidus
  3. Diaphragm
  4. Pelvic floor

They are also known as "feed-forward" muscles in that they react quicker than any other muscle group, to prepare the body for movement. The only way they can work effectively and influence the integrity of movement is to fire first. The ability of the inner unit muscles to contract prior to force production of the larger prime mover muscles (geared toward movement) is more important than their strength. Research shows that in people with no history of low back pain, the TVA fires 30 milliseconds before arm movements and 110 milliseconds before leg movements.

The OUTER UNIT is comprised of the large prime mover global muscles that are designed to move the body. These muscles are unique in that they mainly concerned with providing movement of the body but at the same time assist in providing stability. This is where muscles like latissimus dorsi, the glutes, the back extensors, and the ever popular (six-pack) muscles rectus abdominous and external obliques provide movement of the body at certain times, while simultaneously working in a stabilizing role.

For example, the external obliques function unilaterally to laterally flex the trunk and rotate the trunk to the opposite side. But they also contract to prevent flexing and over-rotation which is often critical during certain movements.

You can read more about the specifics of the core in the articles below.

Problems arise when the outer unit begins to take over the inner unit’s role of stabilizing the spine and pelvis for it is unable to effectively complete this task due to their anatomical connection. And this is where people seek out abdominal strengthening exercises to target these inner unit muscles.

Strength of your Abdominal Muscles is not as Important as you Think

One of the first times I ever came across information about EMG studies relating to abdominal muscles and core function that entirely changed the way I was thinking about core exercises was in Dr Stuart McGill’s book “Low Back Disorders”. At the time I was like everyone else and using mainly floor based exercises like planks, crunches, and many Pilates style methods to isolate and strengthen the abdominal region. My thinking was simple if I make these muscles stronger the person with hip and back pain will improve as they have a stronger core.

Unfortunately, I found out the hard way that this simple idea does not work. Sure, some people had great results but for others had little improvement and some even became worse. I even suffered with frustrations in my own body as I endlessly worked on strengthening my abdominal muscles in the belief that a stronger core is a good thing. What I had to learn is that these muscles have very little influence over how you move, for this is not their true purpose. The strength is not of importance, but how fast they can react.

True core stability is all about being able to react with perfect reflexes to be able to maintain joint alignment ready for efficient and smooth movement.

Many of the simple floor based exercises require little reaction or demand for reflex stability as opposed to movements like squats, deadlifts, and single leg movements. And it is in these “big” movements that the core is needed to work the most to ensure joints are aligned and stabilized correctly.

How much work does the core actually provide during these movements? To find this out we need to look at some EMG studies.

Looking At EMG Studies

Before we look at some of the results of these studies here is an explanation of some of the terms used so you can understand what it all means.

An EMG is short for electromyography and measures muscle response or electrical activity in response to a nerve's stimulation of the muscle. This is used to help detect neuromuscular abnormalities by inserting one or more small needles (also called electrodes) through the skin into the muscle. While EMG doesn’t directly measure muscular tension, it is simply a measurement of the nervous system’s signal to the muscles. Increased EMG activity indicate the nervous system’s attempt to produce more muscular force.

The second term to understand is maximum voluntary contraction, commonly referred to as MVC.

What’s MVC?

This is a measurement of how hard a muscle can contract isometrically. When you record MVC, you simply position your body in an advantageous position and squeeze your muscle as hard as possible. You can also push against an immovable object. Each muscle has its own position that will yield the highest electrical value. The first step in measuring EMG activity is recording MVC. Following this recording, every subsequent exercise performed will be compared to MVC as a percentage.

What Are Mean And Peak Activation?

Most researchers will typically use mean MVC for their data as they are often using an isolation exercise to measure a muscles level of activation. However, this does not always provide a true reflection of what happens for some muscles are not always active throughout the entire range of motion of an exercise, especially during movements like a squat or deadlift. For example, the glutes might be very active down low in the stretched position, while the quads and muscles of the anterior hip becomes more active up top in the contracted position of the same exercise.

If you can access data that has both mean activation and peak activation it is more valuable resource as you will have a better idea of what you is likely to be the cause of the problem you are trying to solve. Peak activation is arguably more valuable for certain people in sports or occupations that require lifting as it gives you the highest measurement you can possibly achieve during a movement. Back pain for these people is often triggered during one of these movements. Whereas the mean activation number might relate more to the sedentary person who requires more low intensity activation over long periods of time. This is something to keep in mind when we look at the results.

Anyway, so now that you understand what these terms mean let’s look at some of the research. 

This first study examined was to determine the extent of trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight training movements like squats and deadlifts versus isometric abdominal exercises of the side plank and superman exercise.

Sixteen people performed squats and deadlifts with 80% of 1 repetition maximum (RM), as well as supermen, side planks, squats and deadlifts with body weight only. The EMG activity was measured in the following muscle groups:

  1. Lower abdominals
  2. External obliques
  3. Upper lumbar erector spinae
  4. Lumbar-sacral erector spinae

The results of the study indicated that EMG activity of the lumbar-sacral erector spinae during the 80% 1RM squat significantly exceeded EMG activity for the same muscle during the 80% 1RM deadlift, bodyweight squat and deadlift, superman, and side-bridge. EMG activity of the upper lumbar erector spinae during the 80% 1RM deadlift significantly exceeded the EMG activity for the same muscle during the 80% 1RM squat and all body weight exercises. There were no significant changes in EMG activity for the lower abdominals or external obliques.

The researchers concluded that because the lumbar-sacral erector spinae and upper lumbar erector spinae muscle activation during the 80% squat and deadlift exceeded muscle activation during body weight exercises, isometric exercises may not be necessary to augment core stability training, so long as individuals perform upright, resisted, dynamic exercises."

Reference: Hamlyn, N., D.G. Behm, and W. B. Young. Trunk muscle activation during dynamic weight-training exercises and isometric instability activities. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 21(4), 1108–1112. 2007.

While this appeared to give some good information it did not really provide enough detail on some of the specifics I was looking for. This following study provided what I wanted to know. This was completed by Bret Contreras and you can find the entire study on the T-Nation website here

The only thing to consider is that the author was completing this study for body building purposes, and not functional purposes for preventing back pain as in my case. Perhaps the information would be different if it was for different purposes as in McGill’s research, however it is still interesting to look at. Overall, he tested 50 exercises with a combination of integrated movements and isolated exercises which gives you a great spread of information to compare. He used weight that was light enough to allow him to perform at least five repetitions. The mean number is on top and the peak number is on bottom.

Here are some of the results he discovered. I didn’t include the entire list so make sure you check out his full post to see all of it.

Based on his experiment, here are the top three exercises he determined in terms of mean and peak activity for each muscle part:

Rectus Abdominis
Mean: Chin Up, Hanging Leg Raise, Ab Wheel
Peak:  Chin Up, Hanging Leg Raise, Swiss Ball Crunch

Internal Oblique
Mean: Ab Wheel from Feet, Ab Wheel from Knees, Body-saw
Peak:  Ab Wheel from Feet, Body-saw, Tornado Ball Slam

External Oblique
Mean: Ab Wheel from Feet, Hanging Leg Raise, Body-saw
Peak:  Turkish Get Up, Hanging Leg Raise, Body-saw

Erector Spinae
Mean: Kneeling Cable Lift, Landmine, Reverse Hyper
Peak:  Kneeling Cable Lift, Tornado Ball Slam, Lumbar Extension

What interested me was how the integrated exercises compared to the isolated exercises in terms of abdominal activation. Let’s take a look at some examples.

Deadlift vs Plank

In this first example I took two of the most popular exercises being the deadlift and the plank. You can see quite clearly how much extra the rectus abdominis and back extensors work in the deadlift versus the plank where there is hardly any back extensor work at all. The oblique activation in both exercises is very similar, which many people may find quite surprising as they would have expected the plank to have much higher activation. This is a perfect example of where just because you don’t “feel the burn” of the abs in the deadlift, they are definitely working to their full capacity. The deadlift is superior for abdominal activation in that it demands activation of ALL four muscles tested.

The Romanian Deadlift in particular I would rank above all exercises for people to learn if they suffer with debilitating back or hip injury.


Turkish Get-up Vs Side Plank

Here is another example of comparing the Turkish Get Up to the side plank. These two movements are very similar in many ways, in particular with movement in the frontal plane. The side plank rates much better than the traditional plank with significantly greater peak activation scores and also a higher level of lumbar erector work. However, once again you can quite clearly see how superior the integrated exercise the Turkish Get-up is versus the isometric holding of the side plank.

The TGU was the only exercise in Bret’s experiment that had over 100% peak activation in all four core muscles that were tested.

This is something I have stated many times in previous articles as it demands high levels of mobility and stability in order to complete it effectively. There really is no way to cheat on a TGU. Make sure you read this article to see more about this exercise. Why the Turkish Get-up is the ultimate core exercise


Front Squat vs Ab Wheel

The front squat is one of the most challenging exercises to do and any flaw in your technique exposes huge problems. It is one of the most difficult exercises to breathe in if you complete this with big loads as the demand on your body to stabilize the spine is so immense. I thought the activation may have been a bit higher for this exercise than it was. The ab wheel exercise rated as one of the highest for external and internal oblique activation and this was not a surprise as you can really feel these muscles being torn apart when you do this exercise.

As per the earlier the example with the deadlift and the squat this once again shows the weakness in use of the lumbar erectors as all of the anterior core muscles are taken to their limit with little activation required from their posterior counterparts. While the front squat rates much lower on peak activation for abdominal control I would still rate it as a better core exercise for its ability to recruit all of the core.


Chin-ups vs Leg Raise

In this example I compared two very similar exercises that really share the same grip strength.

In his conclusion Bret stated that - “Probably the most shocking result of this entire experiment was the level of rectus abdominis activity elicited by a bodyweight chin-up! It beat out any other abdominal exercise, weighted exercises and all, in mean and peak rectus abdominis activity.”

The Chin-up like the deadlift and farmers walks, builds incredible grip strength because your fingers, hands and forearms are all used. Grip strength has been proven in many studies to be a good predictor of future injury and even overall body strength. Muscles throughout the entire back are hit with enough stress to make them grow stronger but additionally, your abdominal muscles are given a good workout due to the stabilisation needed through the entire core to stop your back from arching and your legs from swinging.

Another surprise was that using extra weight on chin-ups via a dip belt didn’t increase rectus abdominis activity – it lowered it. If you’re aiming to get a great core workout via chin ups, I recommend performing slow, controlled repetitions while focusing on keeping the hips and spine perfectly neutral throughout the set.

The leg raise was right up there in terms of peak activation for the anterior abdominals but it was also one of the lowest for lumbar erectors. It is no surprise this exercise is not rated very highly by Dr Stuart McGill who has found it to be a constant problem with back pain injuries. More on this later.


I could keep comparing these exercises with each other but I think you can start to see a pattern emerging. More on this shortly.

Things to Keep In Mind

While this testing provided some great insights into various exercises it does also have some limitations. You must appreciate that some of the isolated exercises have a massive advantage in terms of EMG activity over some of the integrated exercises.

For example, weighted singular plane isolation core exercises like the crunch that have high levels of stability almost always register high levels of muscle activation. Whereas, the total-body integrated core exercises like the wood-chops show lower levels of activation. While these total-body multi-plain exercises don’t necessarily elicit high levels of core EMG activation, it does not mean they are not activating the core with high levels of stabilization. It means the body is moving the force away from the trunk instead of compressing it into the one area for extended periods of time.

Isometric core exercises have a distinct advantage for mean activity because there are no periods of reduced muscular activity at the start or end of the repetition. The muscles are highly activated right at the start until the end of the set. This is where exercises like the Turkish Get Up are at a disadvantage in terms of mean activity because the lift is so complex and has so many phases that there are periods where certain muscles aren’t working very hard, which reduces the levels of mean activation. Which makes the results of the TGU even more impressive!

Secondly, and arguably the more important thing to consider in my opinion, is that we cannot see the level of activation of the inner unit. Remember, these muscles are more critical to providing stability of the spine and pelvis than the outer unit muscles, but this test was unable to provide data on their level of activation. Possibly the results may be a bit different if these were included.

In Dr Stuart McGill’s book “Low Back Disorders” he provides a detailed chart of exercises similar to this previous test that does show the activation of TVA, Psoas, and other inner unit muscles not included in the previous example. The results were very consistent with the findings of the previous examples except they mainly tested floor based abdominal movements like crunches, planks, and side plank variations.

You can reference that study here: Juker D, McGill S, Kropf P, Steffen T. Quantitative intramuscular myoelectric activity of lumbar portions of psoas and the abdominal wall during a wide variety of tasks. Med Sci Sports Exerc.1998;30:301-310

One last study that I found useful to look at, and one that was looking for similar answers to the ones I was conducted by the Journal of Orthopaedic Sports Therapy.

In this study surface EMG analysis was carried out in 19 males and 11 females while performing the following exercises:

  1. Active hip abduction, bridge
  2. Unilateral-bridge
  3. Side-bridge
  4. Prone-bridge on elbows and toes
  5. Quadruped arm/lower extremity lift
  6. Lateral step-up
  7. Standing lunge and using the Dynamic Edge.

The rectus abdominis, external oblique abdominis, longissimus thoracic, lumbar multifidus, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, vastus medialis obliquus, and hamstring muscles were studied.

Here is their results.

They found that in healthy subjects, the lateral step-up and the lunge exercises produced EMG levels greater than 45% maximum voluntary isometric contraction (MVIC) in the vastus medialis obliquus, which suggests that they may be beneficial for strengthening that muscle. The side-bridge exercise could be used for strengthening the gluteus medius and the external oblique abdominis muscles, and the quadruped arm/lower extremity lift exercise may help strengthen the gluteus maximus muscle. All the other exercises produced EMG levels less than 45% MVIC, so they may be more beneficial for training endurance or stabilization in healthy subjects.

The interesting part of this was the impact the side bridge and the quadruped had as an exercise for meeting strengthening of multiple areas of the core and even the glutes! This puts it at a distinct advantage over many of the pure abdominal isolated exercises like crunches.

What Does All this Mean?

Okay, I think we have covered enough of the nerdy information, the big question is – what does this all mean?

The isolated exercises undoubtedly provide the greatest peak activation for one muscle or even two muscles. But, they DO NOT provide the complete stabilization of the entire core complex. While this sounds like the obvious answer, many people are easily caught up in the illusion of trying to strengthen muscles in the belief that it will change movement. The strength of a muscle is irrelevant if you move poorly. The way the muscles interact with their synergistic partners is of more value to your body than strength alone. It is the poor interaction that leads to weakness, compensation, injury, and pain.

If you looked carefully at the integrated exercises you will see they try to shift the compressive forces away from the spine. The wood-chop is a classic example of where the EMG activation is surprisingly low even though the force is cutting right through the trunk. The load is instigated in the feet and passed quickly diagonally through the trunk and out the arms. All of this happens really fast and reduces any compressive forces into the discs if it is performed correctly. This is a classic example of what I am referring to as timing.


Many people have been educated to treat the core stabiliser muscles in the same we would use a bicep curl to make our arm stronger. Unfortunately, the stabiliser muscles do not respond to this type of training and are not programmed to functions in this manner. Instead, they rely more on TIMING and SEQUENCING and are highly dependent on the MOTOR PROGRAM used by the brain for each movement we make. 

"Core control is reflex driven, not conscious driven"

Not only are people wasting their time with exercises that will do little to enhance the way their core actually functions, but they are gradually destroying joint stability and creating postural dysfunctions. It is ironic for the intention of using these exercises is to prevent these very things.

What people fail to understand is that your abs are unable to move you, other than making you wiggle or flop around like a fish out of water. You need your arms and legs to move you for your abdominal muscles are not capable of doing much. Basically the abdominal muscles have very little influence over how you move, for this is not their true purpose.

True core stability is all about being able to react with perfect reflexes to be able to maintain joint alignment ready for efficient and smooth movement.

Does this mean isolated abdominal exercises are useless? No, what it means is that you can still use them as long as you have the intention of transferring the strength to the integrated movement patterns. For it is in these patterns that you really change how the core works.

How Much Strength Is Needed For Stability?

We need some degree of strength, but how much is enough?

When a muscle contracts it creates both force and stiffness. While stiffness is a good thing, too much can be a problem. If a muscle becomes more active it usually can add to spinal stability, but if it keeps working it will reduces motion and inevitably spinal stability by creating a buckling effect. This is very commonly seen with the rectus abdominis muscle producing a flexed trunk leading to disc bulges in the lumbar spine.

In McGill’s research they found that only a modest amount of strength was required to maintain sufficient stability of the lumbar spine. Their research established that to maintain a safe amount of stability in most daily tasks it was more important to have great muscle endurance, more than peak individual strength. Having strong abdominal muscles did not seem to provide the stability effect they were looking for, yet muscular endurance did. (Biering-Sorensen, O’sullivan, Twomey, and Allison 1997)

McGill found the amount of strength required was on average about 10% of maximal voluntary contraction depending on the task. However, there are several important factors that must happen in line with this if you want to achieve optimal stability. These are:

  1. The muscle/s ability to fire fast enough to provide stability, prior to the body moving.
  2. Co-contraction of the abdominals and extensors.
  3. The muscle/s ability to maintain strength for long periods.

Is there one particular muscle that is more important than any other? Some people believe that isolating the TVA is the key to rehabilitating back pain or preventing it. This is where specific exercises are used to target this muscle, once again with the belief that if you make it stronger everything will go back to normal. This completely ignores the function of the TVA with other muscles within specific movement patterns. The key to activating this muscle is to improve the way you breathe, and more specifically how you brace your core.

This is where this a lot of confusion surrounding bracing versus hollowing, and once again McGill has conducted a stack of research into this area. In one particular study they took 12 healthy subjects without history of low back pain were instructed while keeping a neutral lumbar spine position, to isometrically tighten their abdominals with two different techniques:-

  1. Hollow the abdominal muscles by bringing the navel up and in towards the spine so as to draw in the lower and deeper abdominals.
  2. Bracing the trunk by isometrically contracting all of the abdominals without any change in the position of the muscles.

What they found was lumbar compression forces and the amount of gross lumbar spine movement minimised were greatest with the abdominal bracing technique. McGill’s team then concludes that this technique gives greater stability of the spine.

I struggled with this concept for a long time as I was always told to pull the belly button in towards the spine as taught in Pilates. In this research they found that posterior loading of the lumbar spine while semi-seated mainly activated the abdominals rather than the back extensors, which is very consistent with the EMG results we saw earlier for exercises like the plank. The problem with this is that when they applied load unexpectedly the out of balance workload between the anterior abdominals and back extensors produced a faulty loading. The activity of lat dorsi and the thoracic erector spinae was considerably higher during loaded movements in healthy people.

This suggest that abdominal activity in regards to their stabilising function should be retained with the lumbar spine moving into extension and not into lumbar flexion as commonly practiced in Pilates and in many rehab settings. It also shows that thoracic extensor strength and control is vital when trying to retrain dynamic lumbar stability into extension.

Reference: Effects of abdominal stabilization manoeuvres on the control of spine motion and stability against sudden trunk perturbations. J Vera-Garcia; J Elvira; S Brown; S McGill. Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology 17 (2007) 556-567.

The hollowing technique was not entirely wrong for it was found to be more useful for dynamic tasks like rotational movement where mobility was required in conjunction with a fast acting stabilizing activation. A bracing technique in these movements greatly limited the ability to rotate as it produced too much stiffness. This is where you need to understand how to initiate the right type of breathing strategy in your training to make it become automatic when you move in life. For example, bracing for deadlifts and squats, hollowing for wood-chops and dynamic movement.

The videos below show you how to do this.


Read this article to see more about breathing – Do you know how to breathe correctly when you exercise?

Muscle Inhibition Creating Weakness

The last thing that must be considered is the potential of other muscles to inhibit the abdominal muscles from firing, which I briefly touched on at the beginning of this article.

In Vladimir Janda’s book “Assessment & Treatment of Muscle Imbalance” he explains great detail muscle inhibition and the difference between tonic and phasic muscles.

  • In simple terms tonic system muscles are prone to tightness or shortness and are more concerned with stability, posture, and working for long periods. They are made up mostly of slow twitch fibres and are easily facilitated with constant repetitive movements.
  • On the other side is the phasic system muscles who are prone to weakness or inhibition and more concerned with fast and powerful movements. They are predominately fast twitch muscle fibres and require specific movement to keep them functional.

The tonic muscles by way of their design begin to develop a method of overworking and dominating all movements and in essence “shut down” or "steal" the phasic muscles workload completely. This creates an imbalance within the body as muscles not capable to perform various movements continue to work developing trigger points and tightness, while at the same time other muscles are becoming weaker due to lack of work. The longer this stays this way the further the imbalance becomes and reaches a point of chronic pain.

Which is why we MUST approach a muscular imbalance by identifying these tight muscles with tests and putting a plan in place to improve mobility at joints where it is essential to have it. To strengthen the weak muscles first without improving mobility or weakening the tonic muscles is a waste of time, as the tonic muscles will continue to “steal” the workload within the movement pattern and exacerbate the problem.

In this case of lumbar stability and establishing core strength the two main areas are the hips, and the thoracic region. Any stiffness with the hips and/or thoracic region will force the core to sacrifice lumbar stability. It does not matter how strong the abs are holding a plank they will instantly give it up to find the lost range of motion during movement if the hips and thoracic region are not mobile enough.

Using stretches, foam rolling, mobility drills, and massage daily to gently loosen these tight overworking muscles will then enable you to strengthen the weakened stabilizer muscles responsible for providing spinal and pelvic stability. It is important to always release tight muscles first before attempting to strengthen. There are many different ways to do this and it would be impossible to say that everyone should do the same stretch. You must find what is tight for you and stretch that.

You will find this article a great resource for doing this – How to find mobility restrictions affecting how you move

I will often use a mobility exercise in conjunction with the stability and movement correction. This gives the body every chance of improving both things at the same time and reprogramming the faulty movement pattern behind weakness and pain. Watch the video below to see an example of this in action.

Improve How You Move If You Want a Stronger Core

Whenever we perform an isolated exercise we are employing a muscle action that is against the function of the nervous system and a pattern that we would never use. This does not necessarily mean it is "bad", for there may be a specific purpose for doing this, it just means it is against how our brain coordinates movement using what is known as motor programs. It is also unlikely to change the movement causing pain if the fault within the movement is not addressed.

"Patterns are groups of singular movements linked in the brain like a single chunk of information. This chunk essentially resembles a mental motor program, the software that controls movement patterns. A pattern represents multiple single movements used together for a specific function. Storage of a pattern creates efficiency and reduces processing time in the brain, much as a computer stores multiple documents of related content in one file to better organize and manage information." - Gray Cook.

Functional can really be simplified into observing how we move in a standing position where all joints and muscles are involved in either a role of stabilizing or moving. When the body is forced to find optimal mobility, in combination with optimal stability, it can very easily develop incredible strength, speed, and power with little risk to joints. By spending the time to move well you do not need to isolate specific areas of the abdominal region to have a stronger core.

Do You Need More Help?

Before jumping straight into any type of corrective program make sure you have seen a qualified Health professional for an accurate diagnosis and assessment of your condition. I cannot stress this enough as self-diagnosing can potentially lead to more problems. We often refer out to Doctors, Chiropractors, and Physiotherapists before implementing our program to know exactly what we are dealing with. Being certain on where to start is crucial to the success of the program.

If you have seen a health professional and are now looking at implementing a series of exercises and stretches this article will provide you with many great ideas on how to do this. As many people struggle to implement this into a gradual progression I created some detailed step by step programs for the most common injuries to the back, knee, and shoulder that you can instantly download below. Click the image of the report you require below to get your instant copy.



This was a beast of an article to write and took my almost 4 weeks to complete, but I am sure you would agree it provides you with a stack of knowledge about how the core really works. And more importantly, where you need to focus to develop incredible strength to move more efficiently. If you are dealing with pain then this article may help explain why you have never been able to progress to the point where you need to be.

The main take away from this article is that to develop incredible core strength you must have these things.

  • Good hip and thoracic mobility
  • Know how to breathe correctly to brace your core
  • Know how to move correctly with functional movement patterns.
  • Improve your strength endurance

If you spend the time to do these things you will build incredible core strength and your chances of injury will greatly diminish.

For more ideas and information on specific topics I may not have covered in detail be sure to check out our INDEX PAGE on the website that has over 300 of our best articles. These are all sorted into categories for quick reference so you can find what you are after more easily. You can also subscribe to our FREE fortnightly newsletter by clicking here.

If you do need specific help with your exercise program please feel free to reach out to me for help and we can set you up with your individualised program.


About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 15 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.


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  • Diagnosis & Treatment Of Movement Impairment Syndromes - By Shirley Sahrman
  • Low Back Disorders - by Dr Stuart McGill
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