Redefining Core Strength

Core strength is an overused term that comes with a lot of baggage. It’s a word used so often that it’s lost a lot of its meaning. What exactly is our core? What does it means to have a strong core? The last 30+ years of core programming has focused on core ‘strength’. How many sit ups you can do, how long you can hold a plank, etc. This has lead to the development of thousands of core exercises aimed at strengthening certain muscles while completely ignoring others.

It’s time to redefine core strength. Understanding these three principles will redefine your approach to core strengthening, providing better stability, improved strength, and improved performance.

1.      Core Coordination vs. Core Strength

The first thing we need to understand is that there is a difference between core coordination and core strength. Research has shown that core strength and stabilization relies more on ‘proprioception and timing rather than gross muscular strength (SFMA).’ In other words, core stability requires more coordination (proper firing of muscles) rather than isolated strength.

Core coordination can be improved with rolling patterns. These rolling patterns require us to recruit and coordinate the firing of deeper core muscles. What we’ve seen is that while many have ‘strong’ cores, they lack the coordination required in these rolling patterns that puts them at risk for injury.

2.      Initiate or Stop Movement

There are hundreds of exercises that strengthen and train the core. Majority of these exercises ‘initiate’ movement. Sit ups, toes to bars, hollow rocks, stir the pots; mountain climbers all utilize our core muscles to ‘initiate’ a movement. In the therapeutic fitness world we’re seeing a huge shift is in the importance of using core exercises to ‘stop’ unwanted or unnecessary movement. Using core movements that ‘stop’ movement rather than ‘initiate’ movement requires more control and improves the proper timing and firing of deeper core musculature for greater strength and stability.

The Farmer’s Carry and Pallof  Presses are good examples of this. With the Farmer’s Carry’s we carry a heavy weight in one or both hands. This requires us to use our core stabilizers to prevent our bodies from crumbling to the side. With the ‘Pallof Press’ we utilize our core to preventrotational movement as we hold a band attached to a post.

3.      Core Doesn’t Equal Abs

An image to demonstrate how our 'core' spans the entire body

An image to demonstrate how our 'core' spans the entire body

For most in the fitness world the word ‘core’ has been used interchangeably with the word ‘abs’. A core workout has meant an ‘ab’ workout. In reality, our core includes every muscles that attach to our pelvis (47 total, spanning the entre body). And for that reason core strengthening programs require us to integrate and coordinate full body, functional movements.

Part of the recent popularity of Olympic lifting in the therapy world (squats, deadlifts, cleans, etc) is that these movements strengthen the core through improving strength, power, and coordination of the entire body.


Core strength entails more than sit ups and crunches. Integrating these principles with full body movements is the key to a stronger core. The next time you head to the gym for a core workout add in some rolling patterns, force your core to stop movement, and include some full body, functional strength training for improved stability and performance.