Core work on unstable surfaces might not have additional benefits

Doing core strength exercises on unstable surfaces increases balance, coordination, flexibility, and muscular endurance, but not necessarily more so than doing the exercises on stable surfaces, according to research published in BMC Sports Science, Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Researchers had teens do a basic core strengthening workout twice a week for six weeks. The workout was a 30-minute circuit session, rotating among three key core exercises: cross curl-ups, side bridges, and bird dogs. Half of the teens did the exercises in the conventional manner on a stable surface.

The other half of the teens did the same exercises, but on unstable surfaces. For example, while doing bird dogs, which entail starting on hands and knees and reaching alternate limbs horizontally, the teens placed a basketball under the supporting hand. During the six-week study, they added additional elements of instability to each exercise. For example, while doing bird dogs, they placed a squishy ball under the supporting knee and lifted the foot of the supporting knee off the floor.

At the start of the study, the teens performed several fitness tests, including ones for core muscular endurance, flexibility, balance, and 20-meter sprint time. When the teens performed the same tests after the six-week core strengthening program, both groups had improved significantly. However, in contrast to what the researchers thought would be the case, the teens who did their core exercises on unstable surfaces didn’t outperform those who had done their core exercises on stable surfaces.

“The results of this study illustrate that core strength training is a feasible…and…safe training modality that produces marked increases in health (i.e., strength, flexibility) and skill-related (i.e., balance, coordination, speed) components of physical fitness,” the researchers concluded. But, they wrote, “if the goal is to enhance physical fitness, [core work on unstable surfaces] has no advantage over [the same exercises on stable surfaces].”

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