Is core strength and stability enough?

Although highly important, an emphasis on core strength and stability shouldn't come at the expense of other areas of the body. By taking a holistic view of the entire structure, a broader approach to stability can be adopted, argues Stephen Robertson.

For several years core strength and core stability have been the focus of many fitness professionals’ training programs. While this area is incredibly important, is it more important than the strength and stability of other areas such as the ankle, knee, hip, and shoulder?

Consider this scenario: an athlete with excellent core strength and stability attempts to change direction rapidly and their knee gives out. Core strength and core stability offer little assistance to limbs and other joint structures.

I believe that stability at every level, from the ground up, has a similar importance and that instability at any level will impair performance and increase injury risk. Furthermore, I believe that the degree of focus on core strength and stability has been at the expense of a holistic view of the entire structure (every joint) and that it’s time for a broader approach to stability.

Stability at all levels

The reasons for a more complete approach to stability are manifold:

  • Increases the chances of coping with the demands of sport
  • Plays a major role in performance and injury prevention
  • Allows each segment to play its part in movement efficiently
  • Allows the muscles to fire in rapid succession
  • Increases the ability to generate force and speed
  • Provides accurate movement.

Every bodily movement, from walking or running, to an explosive shot putt or rapid change of direction, benefits from balance and control. It is important to note that, by facilitating safe and accurate movement, balance and control are particularly important to older people, for whom falls caused by instability and lack of control are a leading cause of hospitalisation and subsequent declining health.

When discussing ‘stability’, therefore, I believe it is important to change the terminology so that it refers to the whole body. By doing so, fitness professionals will subconsciously set their radar to ‘stability at all levels’ both during movement and when stationary, and be more conscious of correcting improper and unsafe technique.

In place of discussing core strength and stability, perhaps we could instead address body control and stability; controlled movement; complete control; motion control; or movement control.

Before answering the title question ‘Is core strength enough?’, reflect on your training methods with clients:

  • Do you observe ankle, knee, hip, shoulder, elbow and neck stability?
  • How often do you vary exercises and session formats?
  • Are you skilled in assessing correct posture, joint stability and technique?
  • Do you train the muscles from a variety of angles?
  • Do you modify your exercises for grass or concrete?
  • Do you train clients to move with rotation, forward, backward, laterally and vertically?

With more trainers embracing the enormous benefits of ‘functional training’ with clients, ‘stability at all levels’ has become even more important and demands increased attention.

Assessing stability is a complex skill requiring a sharp eye, and a good knowledge of anatomy and physiology. Post-assessment, improving a client’s stability requires knowledge of a large repertoire of training methods to ensure prescription of appropriate exercises.

To improve your ability to assess and manage ‘stability at all levels’ consider doing the following:

  • Do an anatomy and physiology course
  • Research stability online
  • Choose a major joint and observe it closely on clients for a week (trying to observe multiple joints concurrently can be confusing)
  • Observe clients during a lunge and rotate movement; this exercise is likely to highlight multiple areas of instability
  • Ask your clients about previous injuries.

A balanced training program begins with a balanced outlook that considers strength and stability at all levels. Adopting this standpoint will allow you to successfully transitions clients from easy to difficult moves. By closely observing clients’ movement during training sessions, and then making appropriate corrections, you will vastly improve their training outcomes, while strengthening your reputation as a quality trainer.


Stephen Robertson
Stephen is the creator of Dynamic Dumbbells, a unique program that blends strength, endurance, balance, agility, co-ordination and speed for a complete training experience. He has a lifetime’s experience of sport and fitness and along with fitness qualifications holds a diploma of Swedish massage. For more information visit www.dynamicdumbbells.com