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