Systematic review of core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises

J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Jun;27(6):1684-98. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318291b8da.


A consensus has not been reached among strength and conditioning specialists regarding what physical fitness exercises are most effective to stimulate activity of the core muscles. Thus, the purpose of this article was to systematically review the literature on the electromyographic (EMG) activity of 3 core muscles (lumbar multifidus, transverse abdominis, quadratus lumborum) during physical fitness exercises in healthy adults. CINAHL, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, EMBASE, PubMed, SPORTdiscus, and Web of Science databases were searched for relevant articles using a search strategy designed by the investigators. Seventeen studies enrolling 252 participants met the review's inclusion/exclusion criteria. Physical fitness exercises were partitioned into 5 major types: traditional core, core stability, ball/device, free weight, and noncore free weight. Strength of evidence was assessed and summarized for comparisons among exercise types. The major findings of this review with moderate levels of evidence indicate that lumbar multifidus EMG activity is greater during free weight exercises compared with ball/device exercises and is similar during core stability and ball/device exercises. Transverse abdominis EMG activity is similar during core stability and ball/device exercises. No studies were uncovered for quadratus lumborum EMG activity during physical fitness exercises. The available evidence suggests that strength and conditioning specialists should focus on implementing multijoint free weight exercises, rather than core-specific exercises, to adequately train the core muscles in their athletes and clients.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Muscles / physiology*
  • Back Muscles / physiology*
  • Electromyography
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / methods
  • Physical Conditioning, Human / physiology*
  • Resistance Training