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Core Strength, Core Endurance, and Back Pain: The Fitness Industry and Their Jedi Mind Tricks

by on July 11, 2009

I’ve  been informed of a MYTH. Apparently core strengthening does not help resolve back pain! Doing “strength” exercises for the core musculature is wrong.  It doesn’t work.

Apparently the secret is to build up core “endurance” with the right exercises.

These days you join any kind of site you get treated to countless “special email bulletins”. I must admit I find it annoying when a fitness site sends out a new newsletter every single day. But it is a convenient way for me to find countless examples of this post’s title.

Fitness experts want you to believe they have special knowledge. That if you sign up for their trial offer and then pay a nominal fee you will have access to secrets that only they possess. But since we all dip from the same knowledge pool how do they make themselves appear to be “above the fold”?

One method is relying on semantics. No better way to confuse and befuddle than to take advantage of the industries lack of standardized terminology. Strength training is SUBJECTIVE and SPECIFIC. So much so that it is very difficult to make general statements without the other side putting words in your mouth.

I must admit that I find semantics to be very important sometimes.  If we cannot agree on the definition of the terms we use…then we are causing more problems than we are solving. But, usually there is a real difference in the meaning of one term and another.  It may be quite subtle but in exercise science and related fields it can be important.

But one word that is very important to us all does not have one meaning:


Strength means different things to different people.  Sure we can define in a very strict mechanical way for research and such but when it comes to pursuit of strength…your goals and needs help define it for you. That is not to say that all aspects of strength are not useful to everyone, only that we tend to have different views of what is “strong”.

To my 7 year old if you lift a weight ONE TIME,  no matter how heavy, that is not strong.  Ya gotta do it at least 8 times! He grew up watching Strongman Competitions on TV.

Via email recently  I was offered a Sports Injury Bulletin that would explain to me the proper core exercises to build up core ENDURANCE rather than to build core STRENGTH.

Semantics. It’s called strength endurance. It is all a part of strength training. After all, what is enduring?

The muscles.

Yes, it is true that many would be trainers think the secret to curing back pain is heavy goodmornings.  But they have never had back pain nor dealt with it.

When we say CORE STRENGTHENING we mean training for core stability.  This is strength endurance training but it will also entail core strengthening exercises as well.

For instance, say you are doing Romanian Deadlifts.  If you do them right you are training hip drive and the whole posterior chain.  But the prime movers are the glutes…the major hip extensors.  The lumbar region is being used for stability and Romanians help train local muscular endurance in this region.  It’s core training.

In this case the endurance of the trunk musculature has everything to do with “strength”.  They fail to endure, you fail to lift,  not to mention remain healthy.

And so are static core stability exercises like planks, etc. also core training.  But if that is all you did, you would not automatically be prepared for heavy loads,  abrupt changes in momentum or direction, etc..

For instance, one thing we need is for the core musculature to be able to fire very rapidly.  We need the core to “turn on” very quickly when lifting heavy loads to create an effective brace for the spine.  That is part of core training as well.

At the same time,  one could argue that exercises designed for glute activation or to teach hip drive are also core training.  Many prefer the term “pillar” for core for this very reason.  People think of the core as the midsection which essentially ignores the hips. But the kinetic chain is finely connected and the health of the hips are directly related to the health of the midsection.

This whole thing  I received in the  newsletter  was what I call lip service.  That is when experts use TERMINOLOGY as obfuscation  so as to mask the lack of depth underneath the terms.  “I am using fancy lingo, therefore I am an expert”.

We need terms to communicate but fancy words should not take the place of depth and quality control.  When I use technical terms it is usually to provide a search term for people rather than to show I know technical terms.  And that is a trick you can use when someone tries  to to do a jedi on you with a well placed term.

Look it up. You will find other terms.  Look those up.  Etc. and so on.  It’s all just branches on a tree.  Pretty soon you get close to the trunk and at that point you are much more protected from misleading marketing techniques.

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