Core Conditioning and Athletic Performance: Is There a Connection?

by Joy Keller on Oct 01, 2007

Core conditioning has quickly become a major component of many athletic training programs; however, recent research questions the validity of claims that it enhances athletic ability. The Indiana State University study tested the core strength of 29 NCAA Division I football players and compared the results to the athletes’ abilities in three strength variables and four performance variables. Subjects were first tested on how long each could hold the following positions: back extension, trunk flexion, and left and right bridge. They were then asked to perform the bench press, squat, power clean, vertical jump, 20- and 40-yard sprints and 10-yard shuttle run.

While study authors noted some connection between core strength and athletic ability, the results weren’t encouraging. “We were surprised that core strength is only moderately responsible or related to an athlete’s overall strength and power performance, based on the variables we tested,” stated Thomas Nesser, assistant professor of physical education at Indiana State, on the Indiana State website. While he didn’t rule out core conditioning as a means of enhancing ability, he did suggest that athletes and their trainers might be spending too much time focusing on core training.

Annette Lang, MS, owner of Annette Lang Education Systems in Brooklyn, New York, has concerns about the methods used in this study, in that the exercises chosen were better suited to determining core strength in the average individual as opposed to the athlete. “I think you could pick different exercises to more precisely relate to specific sport moves,” says Lang. She contends that, in most athletes, the core muscle fibers are already functioning properly, and so there isn’t a huge industry push to spend more time on core-strengthening programs. “From my understanding, it is suggested more for people whose cores don’t function appropriately.”

—Ryan Halvorson

IDEA Fitness Journal , Volume 4, Issue 9

© 2007 by IDEA Health & Fitness Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction without permission is strictly prohibited.

About the Author

Joy Keller

Joy Keller IDEA Author/Presenter

Joy Keller is executive editor of IDEA Fitness Journal and is also a certified personal trainer, indoor cycling instructor, yoga teacher (RYT 200) and Reiki Master.


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  • Paula (Polli) Schildge

    I teach a core program, and some of my clients are professional cyclists. I also compete as a cyclist. I know that my clients and I could not achieve the same results as athletes without these exercises in cross training. Neuromuscular connections and stabilization in compound exercises translates directly to the bike, not necessarily for power or strength, but for essential balance and core strength for both big efforts like climbs and sprints and for endurance in the long haul. A program integrating movement in all planes, as well as dynamic stretching can be an essential part of athletic conditioning.
    Commented Sep 07, 2012
  • Telf Murray

    There a lot of athletes who can benefit from a good core stabilization program. I emphasize stabilization because it is different from strengthening. A good core stabilization program will give an athlete the stabilization strength he needs in his spine and lumbo pelvic hip complex during functional movement patterns. The only way to know if an athlete lacks core strength and stability is to assess him or her. The body works as a synchronized unit and if one link in the chain is weak or out of sync then it will create a faulty movement pattern. Strengthening the core the conventional way ie.. crunches, sit ups etc.. is an old school way of conditioning the core that was created when we didn't really understand how the body functioned. Typically, the abdominals and hip flexors are concentrically trained and isolated during conditioning. When an athlete performs an explosive movement these muscle groups require tri-plane loading to create the leverage needed for force production. Thus, integrated patterns of movement should be incorporated into the training program. These movement patterns should originate from a standing position and from the ground up. No wonder some of the strongest athletes in the world are Olympic weight lifters.
    Commented Aug 08, 2009