Core Training Myths - W10 Personal Training Gym

The Core Training Myth

The debate around core training has been a hot topic in the fitness world for over a decade. The original article by Peta Bee, a renowned health and fitness journalist, shed light on the misconceptions and flawed principles behind the widespread emphasis on core stability exercises. This updated article revisits the arguments, incorporating the latest research and expert opinions, to provide a better understanding of the efficacy and safety of core training.



The concept of core training gained prominence in the mid-1990s, rooted in the belief that strengthening the muscles around our midsection would enhance overall stability and prevent back pain. This trend was significantly influenced by a study conducted by Professor Paul Hodges at Queensland University. Hodges’ research involved attaching electrodes to participants’ abdomens to measure muscle activity during arm movements. His findings suggested that the transversus abdominis muscle contracted in healthy individuals to support the spine, while those with back pain lacked this automatic response. This study laid the foundation for adopting core training in fitness routines.

Celebrities like Kate Winslet and Gwyneth Paltrow further popularised core training through Pilates practices, emphasising the importance of a strong midsection for better posture and movement. Over time, core stability exercises became a staple in gyms and fitness classes, promising benefits from reduced back pain to improved athletic performance.


Growing Skepticism

The fitness industry’s overemphasis on core training has come under scrutiny. Initially, the idea of a strong core was embraced enthusiastically, with many fitness professionals and enthusiasts dedicating entire workouts to core stability exercises. However, much of this enthusiasm was based on a misinterpretation of scientific evidence, particularly Professor Paul Hodges’s early findings.

Experts like Thomas Nesser and Stuart McGill have criticised the prevailing focus on core training. Nesser points out that the fitness industry extrapolated limited findings into a broad and often exaggerated fitness trend, assuming that more core training would lead to better outcomes. McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, has expressed concern that the common practice of “drawing in” the stomach during exercises can destabilise the spine and increase the risk of injury. He argues that this technique reduces the spine’s ability to bear loads, making it weaker and more vulnerable.

These critiques highlight a growing consensus among researchers that the benefits of core training have been overstated. They advocate for a more balanced approach to fitness, emphasising the importance of overall body strength and functional movement over isolated core exercises. This shift in perspective is prompting fitness professionals to reevaluate and adjust their training programs to ensure they are safe and effective.


The Research

More recent studies have cast doubt on the effectiveness of core training for back pain prevention. Research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that the benefits of core strength have been exaggerated. Studies now indicate that while a strong core is part of overall fitness, it does not singularly prevent back pain or improve functional movement.

Updated perspectives emphasise a holistic approach, integrating exercises that promote strength and stability. For example, research by Stuart McGill demonstrates that traditional core exercises can sometimes destabilise the spine, contradicting earlier assumptions. Instead, activities like squats, deadlifts, and standing overhead presses are recommended for their benefits.

Another study by Professor Thomas Nesser highlights no significant performance benefit in sports from core-specific training alone. Athletes with solid cores did not consistently outperform those without focused core training, suggesting that other factors play more crucial roles in enhancing athletic performance.

These findings underscore the importance of a well-rounded fitness routine that includes a variety of exercises. We should move away from overemphasising core stability and towards a more balanced approach to physical health.

  • Opinions

  • Leading researchers and physiotherapists have voiced strong opinions against the overemphasis on core training. Thomas Nesser, assistant professor of physical education at Indiana State University, notes that the fitness industry misconstrued early research, leading to a disproportionate focus on core exercises. “The assumption of ‘if a little is good, then more must be better’ was applied to core training, and it was completely blown out of proportion,” Nesser explains.

    Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, cautions against the common practice of “drawing in” the stomach during exercises. “Too much emphasis is placed on working the transversus abdominis. If people follow that advice, they are misguided and will not achieve better movement or less pain,” McGill asserts. His research indicates that this technique can destabilise the spine, effectively reducing its ability to bear loads.

    These findings suggest that the fitness industry must reconsider its core training approach. Physiotherapist Pete Gladwell points out that many trainers and therapists adopted the core stability theory without critical evaluation. “The early research compared core stability intervention with GP-led care rather than assessing the best available approaches,” Gladwell notes. This realisation underscores the importance of a balanced fitness regimen that incorporates a variety of exercises to promote overall strength and stability rather than an isolated focus on the core.


    Change in the Industry

    In response to recent research questioning the efficacy of core-specific training, the fitness industry has slowly adjusted its approach. Many gyms and fitness centres now incorporate more holistic workout routines, emphasising overall strength, balance, and functional movement. Traditional core exercises are integrated into broader, multi-joint workouts such as squats, deadlifts, and overhead presses, which engage multiple muscle groups and promote full-body stability.

    Class offerings are also evolving. Instead of purely core-focused sessions, there is a shift towards functional training classes that include a variety of movements designed to improve overall fitness and prevent injury. Personal trainers educate clients on the importance of balanced workouts, advising them to limit core-specific exercises to a few weekly sessions while focusing on diverse and enjoyable activities.

    This shift marks a significant change in the industry’s approach to fitness, prioritising evidence-based practices and overall health over outdated trends. The goal is to foster a more comprehensive understanding of fitness, moving away from the narrow focus on core stability to embrace a well-rounded, functional approach to exercise.


    So What Should We Do Instead?

    To achieve a balanced and effective workout routine, I recommend incorporating various exercises that promote overall strength, balance, and flexibility. These include squats, deadlifts, and standing overhead presses, which engage multiple muscle groups and enhance functional movement.

    • Multi-Joint Exercises:

    Include squats, deadlifts, and standing overhead presses to engage multiple muscle groups.

    • Cardio and Flexibility:

    Combine cardio activities like running or cycling with stretching exercises for flexibility.

    • Medicine Ball Workouts:

    Use a medicine ball for dynamic movements that strengthen the core and other muscles.

    • Full-Body Functional Training:

    Perform exercises that involve multiple joints and muscle groups.

    • Limit Core-Specific Workouts:

    Perform core exercises once or twice a week.

    • Focus on Overall Fitness:

    Integrate cardio, strength, and flexibility training.


    Core Videos

    YouTube links to pre-Foundry (W10) vids:


    If you have any questions on the above or would like some advice on how we could help you with your fitness goal, don’t hesitate to visit one of our personal training gyms in London and try one of our pt classes.


    Related Articles


Join our mailing list