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Systematic Review of Core Muscle Activity During Physical Fitness Exercises

Martuscello, Jason M.1; Nuzzo, James L.2; Ashley, Candi D.1; Campbell, Bill I.1; Orriola, John J.3; Mayer, John M.2

Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: June 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 6 - p 1684–1698
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318291b8da
Brief Review

Abstract: Martuscello, JM, Nuzzo, JL, Ashley, CD, Campbell, BI, Orriola, JJ, and Mayer, JM. Systematic review of core muscle activity during physical fitness exercises. J Strength Cond Res 27(6): 1684–1698, 2013—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.

1School of Physical Education & Exercise Science, College of Education, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida;

2School of Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation Sciences, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida; and

3Shimberg Health Sciences Library, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida

Address correspondence to John Mayer, lincolnchair@health.usf.edu.

Copyright © 2013 by the National Strength & Conditioning Association.