You Don’t Need Core Stability or Core Strength

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Today’s guest post comes courtesy of a regular contributor, Boston-based physical therapist Andrew Millett.

What’s the difference between core stability and core strength? Which one is more important? Find out below.


You don’t need to be be doing core stability exercises or core strengthening exercises. You NEED to be doing BOTH!

What is Core Stability?

Core stability is the ability of the musculature of the trunk aka the “core” to be able to maintain a certain position. It involves musculature contractions typically 20-25% of MVIC (Maximal Voluntary Isometric Contraction). Another way to think of it is that these exercises require precision and control of movement rather than brute strength.

An example of a “core stability” exercise would be the Bird Dog.


The Bird Dog movement requires the participant to maintain a neutral spine position while moving an arm and leg. This does not require a maximal contraction of the abdominal musculature. It requires a low-level, precise contraction of certain musculature to maintain a neutral spine. There are NOT large amount of forces being exuded to cause the person to have to exhibit brute strength to have to perform.

Other examples of “Core Stability” exercises are:

½ Kneeling Chops


½ Kneeling Lifts


Dead Bug


Segmental Rolling



Prone Superman’s


The exercises mentioned above are all movements that can be made more difficult by adding weight or resistance. The purpose of these “easy” movements are to improve the timing and sequencing of the core musculature. Performance of these exercises are to be performed with precision and control.

What is Core Strength?

Core Strength is the ability of the core musculature to maintain or control a certain position against increased forces of gravity, resistance, or weight. Exercises or movements that would be considered core strength are:

Swiss Ball Rollouts


RKC Plank


Stir the Pot


Sledgehammer Hits


Anti-Rotation (Pallof) Press


All the movement mentioned above are using some form of external force. Whether it be gravity, weight, etc., the core musculature has to exhibit a much greater force to resist moving through the spine.

Why Do WE Need BOTH?

Well, you can have great core stability and be weaker than a baby kitten in a wet paper bag or you can have the strongest core in the world and can have poor core stability.

How is that so?

For example, maybe you can hold a plank with proper form for an inordinate amount of time, ie. 5 minutes. I would say that you have great core strength. But we can’t say that you have great core stability.

Here are a few quick tests to determine how someone’s core stability is functioning:

Segmental Rolling



Key Points:

  • Attempt to roll from your back to your stomach using one arm and no legs.
  • You may lift your head and reach with one arm.

Bird Dog


Key Points:

  • Can you maintain a neutral spine while alternating arms/legs?
  • Does the pelvis remain level while performing?

If so, then you passed.  If not, then barring any type of decreased hip extension, thoracic spine extension, or upper extremity flexion mobility, your core stability may be impaired.

½ Kneeling


Key Points:

  • Bring front foot so that it is in line with down leg.
  • You should be able to maintain your balance without shaking or using your arms for balance.
  • Typically, one side is more difficult than the other.  There may be a core stability issue if you cannot maintain an upright posture in tandem ½ Kneeling.

If you can perform the ½ Kneeling Test and both sides feel relatively equal, then you passed. If not, then barring any type of decreased hip extension, ankle, or thoracic spine mobility limitations, this could be indicative of a core stability issue.

I don’t think I need to go into as much detail for core strength, but the importance of maintaining a certain position when deadlifting, squatting, lunging, etc. is hugely important to decrease risk of injury and to improve performance.

We need core stability because throughout the spine there are tiny stabilizing muscles that go from spine segment to spinal segment.


If you present with an imbalance during the Bird Dog, try performing with a towel roll on your low back and widen your base of support so that the movement is challenging but you can perform it with good form.


If the ½ Kneeling Test has imbalances present, try performing ½ Kneeling Chops with a band around the lower legs to improve core musculature recruitment.

The responsibility of these muscles is to stabilize from one spinal segment to another or stabilize a few spinal segments that they may cross over. If these tiny muscles don’t do their job and stabilize like during a bird dog, ½ Kneeling position, or during segmental rolling, compensation will occur.

Instead of those aforementioned muscles working, the work will be placed upon the larger muscles such as the paraspinals, etc.

Who Cares?

Well, if the small, stabilizer muscles aren’t stabilizing effectively and the larger muscles are working harder than they need to, then this can cause movement compensations over time and in turn place you at risk for injury or decrease performance.

If you present with an imbalance during segmental rolling and either can’t do a certain direction or one direction is harder than the other, perform it with some assistance.


If all else fails, see a licensed medical provider with a background in the Selective Functional Movement Assessment here (

With that said, we need BOTH. Performing core stability exercises as mentioned above during a dynamic warm-up or super-setted in a workout AND doing core strengthening super-setted during a workout.

Run yourself or your client through some of these tests and see what you can do to help improve their movement quality through core stability and core strengthening.

About the Author

Andrew Millett is a Metro-West (Boston) based physical therapist.

Facebook: From The Ground Up

Twitter: @andrewmillettpt

Instagram: andrewmillettpt
YouTube: Andrew Millett PT

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