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The Role of Core Training in Athletic Performance, Injury Prevention, and Injury Treatment

Cissik, John M MBA, MS, CSCS*D, NSCA-CPT*D

In theory, core training is performed to improve performance, prevent injuries, and treat lower back injuries. For example, according to McGill, “The well-trained core is essential for optimal performance and injury prevention.” Statements such as this abound in the exercise science literature, popular media, and even product advertisements. Despite the frequency with which these statements occur, the evidence to support them is lacking, contradictory, or taken out of context.

Purpose: The underlying structural assumptions behind core training will be investigated and a review of the literature on core training and performance improvement, injury prevention, and treatment of lower back injuries will also be conducted.

Conclusions: Exercise science literature, popular media, and even product commercials extol the virtue of core training for the improvement of performance, prevention of injuries to the lower back, and treatment of lower back issues. Despite these claims, the literature is hardly conclusive about the benefits of core training. Taken together, there is not enough evidence for the benefits of core training and performance to warrant this mode of exercise making up a significant part of a strength and conditioning program. With regard to the prevention of injuries, the information is conflicting, and there is a real need to look not only at non-specific low back pain versus specific low back pain but also at which types of exercise are more effective than others. In terms of treatment, exercise seems to be effective (although this is controversial), but there is a need for greater detail of those exercise programs in the literature.

IN PLAIN ENGLISH: The time immemorial and inane belief that doing abdominal work will melt body fat from the mid-section (e.g., “core”) needed a new twist years ago when the truth that it did not work came to fruition (although many shallow-minded people continue to believe that today). The new sordid path then mandated one must perform "core" work -- that is, incorporate a multitude of purported "functional" exercises entailing sport-skill mimicking, stabilizing, rotating and/or somehow engaging the yet-to-be-clearly defined core/"mid-section" musculature (AND GOD FORBID IF YOU DON'T!) -- or you will get your butt kicked in athletic competition, be rendered useless in every-day human activities or become injured. Bottom line: the whole "core" mentality sells a lot of funky equipment and programs, but it's just another example of the blind leading the blind WHEN YOU CLEARLY READ THE RESEARCH.

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