Core Strength, Control or Activation?

Those in the fitness profession place a heavy focus on the idea of core “strength.”

Mind you, I realize that we benefit our clients by helping them develop strength through the lumbo-pelvic hip complex, thoraco-pelvic canister and spinal stabilization system.

However, strength is useless if you have an inadequate degree of “activation” of that strength, via the muscles built to deliver that strength and power.

We create this activation ability, I believe, by challenging the core in all 3 training tempos – stability, strength and power.

Improving systemic strength, athletic strength and injury resistance is linked to improvements, not only in core strength, but in stability, motor control and activation.

These improvements are best made by working the athlete or client, according to their ability and, in part, their preferences (see my post on “Evidence-based S & C” for more on where client preferences fit,) through all three training tempos. This will allow for maximal pattern recognition, development and transference (or mastery.)

(Check out my post on Agility Ladder Patterns for more on the 3 phases of Movement Mastery, as I see them.)

When this occurs, the brain and CNS have the best opportunity to maximize the benefit end training effect of the activity being programmed and performed.

Most programs, however, usually begin at the strength tempo, then, because we allow clients to rush to get more volume instead of concentrating on movement quality, we allow the program and activities to devolve into a bad version of a power tempo.

Core strength and activation training should focus on three primary areas:

  1. Flexion – Flexion of the hip, and to a limited degree, of the spine. Also, management, or minimizing unwanted or excessive, flexion.
  2. Extension – Extension of the hip, and extension of the spine, both in the “external,” e.g, lumbar extension or prevention of flexion and “internal,” or extension of the spine’s length against gravity or in the initiation of movement, as described by Theodore Dimon in “The Body in Motion.” (
  3. Anti-rotation – The management of rotation in the hips, lumbar spine and shoulder girdle while moving or stabilizing other parts of the body using the muscles of the core.

Incorporating these three aspects effectively will stabilize and protect the spine, improve joint stability in general and allow for more efficient and powerful movement of limbs and the body as a whole.

I offer this video of my client performing 2 strength tempo core strength and activation exercises. One clue about whether she’s mastered the stability tempo is the level of anti-rotational control she exhibits, along with a minimal amount of frontal plane adjustment during these activities.

Your programs will leave clues regarding their effectiveness (or lack thereof.) It’s important to know what to expect from training activities and phases. It’s also helpful to know what to look for to indicate that things aren’t going as planned.

Focus on core strength, control AND activation and you’ll give your clients a much stronger foundation on which to build more complex movement, higher strength levels, better injury resistance and improved performance.

Much more to come on this topic, to be sure…

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