The development of a strong and stable core has been linked to better physical performance, less back pain and other benefits. There are many exercises designed to strengthen the core, but which are most effective? This question was posed in a recent issue of the Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy (2010; 40 [5], 265–76).

The study pitted eight stability ball and two floor-based abdominal exercises against one another to determine which activated the most lumbopelvic hip complex musculature. Stability ball exercises included roll-out, pike, knee-up, skier, hip extension right and left, decline push-up and seated march. The floor-based crunch and bent-knee sit-up were also included. The 18 participants performed five repetitions of each exercise while electromyographic data were collected. This information was contrasted against voluntary isometric contractions to obtain a control.

“The roll-out and pike were the most effective exercises in activating upper and lower rectus abdominis, external and internal obliques, and latissimus dorsi, while minimizing lumbar paraspinals and rectus femoris activity,” stated the study authors.

IDEA author Carrie Michele Myers, owner of CarrieMichele Fitness Studios in Barre, Vermont, is not surprised by this finding. However, she urges caution when learning the roll-out and pike. “These are advanced exercises, and if you isn’t strong enough to perform them properly, you can risk injury.” Following are Myers’ suggestions for reaping the most benefit from the roll-out and pike.

Roll-Out. Place elbows on ball with knees on floor. Brace abdominals, pull them into spine and contract glutes. Slowly let ball roll forward until you can no longer maintain neutral spine. Return to start. Advanced exercisers may perform this exercise on the toes.

Pike. Place feet on ball and hands on floor as in push-up position. Spread fingers to distribute weight. Brace abdominals and pull them toward spine. In one motion lift hips upward, keeping spine neutral, and bring toes and ball toward upper body. When this move is performed correctly, the body will make an A-frame shape. Pause, and return to start position.