We find ourselves both hearing and talking a lot about “core strength” at the clinic. The concepts of both core strength and core stability seem to be prevalent in exercise and training programs. However, we see a lot of misconceptions as well. If not targeted, specific or completed with appropriate technique, the time many are spending on improving core stability and strength may instead be increasing their risk of injury.

It is important to have both sufficient strength and stability for our bodies to function optimally in both everyday and sporting environments. By having sufficient core strength and core stability injury risk can be reduced, ability to complete everyday tasks efficiently can improve and athletic performance enhanced.

core stability

So what exactly is our core? 

What is the difference between core strength & core stability? Will training core strength & core stability be of benefit?


“Core stability” refers to the ability to activate muscles that work to stabilise the spine. This ensures we have a stable base on which to move efficiently and effectively.

“Core strength” refers to the ability of the musculature to then produce force through contractile forces and intra-abdominal pressure.

Due to the different demands that are placed on our body during both everyday and sporting activities, “core” exercises need to be specific and targeted to the individual and the activities in which they are involved.


Which muscles are our “core” muscles?

There are a number of models looking at core musculature; all are different in which muscles they include. They differ primarily dependent on the population that strength and stability exercises are prescribed (rehabilitation or athletic).

Core musculature can include: abdominals, paraspinals, gluteals, diaphragm & pelvic floor.

However, research looking at the “core” and its relationship to sporting performance often include muscles in shoulder and pelvis as they are critical for the transfer of energy from our trunk to our limbs.

Core control relates to both ‘local’ (deep stability musculature) and ‘global’ (superficial movement generators) muscle groups. It is important that both systems work well together to ensure normal and efficient movement & function.

If only global muscles are trained, a muscle imbalance occurs as they ‘take over’ the role of stabilising muscles resulting in compensatory movement patterns that are less efficient and can increase our risk of injury.

Both of these muscle systems need to be trained and controlled to allow load to be transferred efficiently and effectively.




Core training should include processes that target both motor control and strengthening of core musculature that is specific to the individual and the demands they are placed under during every day (& sporting) tasks.

When training core stability and strength, the following need to be considered…

Motor Control: Focus on stability and efficient integration of both local and global muscle systems.

Core Strength Training: Overload training that leads to strength gains and muscle hypertrophy.

Systematic Strength Training: Traditional strength training of global muscle system once an efficient relationship between local and global muscles has been established and adequate motor control achieved.


It is essential for local muscles to be targeted and adequate motor control achieved to avoid muscle recruitment imbalance, which can lead to movement dysfunction and injury.

Initial core strength programmes should enable people to become aware of motor patterns and allow them to recruit the appropriate muscles in isolation. Programmes can then progress to more functional positions and activities.

Re-learning motor control of inhibited muscles is arguably more important than strengthening, it is an improvement in recruitment and patterns of muscle activation that enhance stability and control.

The choice of exercise needs to be targeted and specific as the magnitude and pattern of muscle activation will determine if core stability or core strength is developed and whether or not it will promote correct motor patterning or enhance pre-existing maladaptive motor patterns.

Prior to any core training program, exercises included should be carefully evaluated depending on the individual and their goals. The ability to train core strength and stability relies on training be functional and specific to the everyday or sporting movement that needs to be performed. Any improvement in training will then be translated into improvement in performance.

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Hibbs et al. Optimising Performance by Improving Core Stability & Core Strength. 2008. Sports Medicine. 38 (12).

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