Oct 14, 2022

A lot of people come to see me because they are struggling with lower back pains and have been told they have a weak core. They know they need to strengthen it.

But how can you tell if you are in the same boat?

Do you think you may have a weak core?

If you believe you have a weak core the first thing you need to do is work out whether you need core strengthening or core stabilizing. Only by identifying the differences can you work out how to fix the problem.

Core strength versus core stability versus core endurance

First we need to identify core strength, core endurance and core stability – what are they?

Core strength is the ability to get into a position and hold it initially.

Core endurance is the ability to hold the position for a period of time, resisting and minimising fatigue.

Core stability is more about the muscle control that results in smoothness of movement.

But how can you identify which one of these you need to work on?

Many people say they have a weak core but when I put them in a position their core is plenty strong enough, the problem is it is unstable. Once we understand the issue we can start putting together the right programme with the right exercises.

Testing and building core strength

Let’s look at three exercises that can be used both to test and build core strength:

  1.  The Plank

Come down onto your elbows and knees then lift onto your toes. Being able to get into this position proves you have the adequate amount of core strength. As you hold this for a period of time it then begins to turn into core endurance.

If you are unable to lift from the knees up onto the toes, this demonstrates you need to build core strength. There are exercises to be able to do this. First train the half plank before trying to get to the full plank. Then focus on endurance. If you can get into the position and hold it for say, a minute, you have adequate core endurance. If not, you’ll need to come back down and start to build that.

During the plank we’ve looked at the anterior musculature, down the front of the body, the tops of the hips and some degree of shoulder strength.

  1.  The side plank

This is actually more tricky. Even if you have good strength and endurance in the normal plank, it doesn’t always follow that a side plank will be easy.

Start in the same place, keep your forearm and elbow on the floor as well as your knees bent at a right angle to offer stability to the rear. You should then come up into a full side plank. If you can get into the position, that shows you have the core strength, but how long can you hold it for? That’s the endurance part. Come back to the knees to build up endurance if necessary.

Repeat on the other side, remembering that there may be an imbalance between the two that needs to be addressed.

  1.  The Bridge

The Bridge looks at the posterior musculature – the glutes and the spinal erectors.

Lay on your back and lift your bottom off the floor, trying to create a straight line from shoulders to knees.

Can you get into this position?

How long can you hold it?

If you can’t get there at all it could be strength or range of movement, if you can get there but can’t hold it, then the endurance needs work.


So when someone tells you that you have a weak core, it might not be as simple as that. Using these exercises we can build a picture of strength and endurance across the anterior and posterior musculature. This then allows us to tailor a programme that will work to improve things where you need it.

If you want to watch a demonstration of any of these positions, you can watch the tutorial video.

So what about core stability?

Core stability is different because it is about muscle timing. We need strength and endurance before we can demonstrate stability.

Let’s think about the plank again. Get back in position (strength), hold it (endurance) and then look for movements that require you to adjust to find balance. Try to touch one shoulder with the opposite hand. If you can do this while keeping your hips centred and without shifting your weight to the side, that’s your core stability. It’s the ability your muscles have to contract to hold your pelvis. That’s what gives you that ‘correction’ or stabilisation.

Next, look at the lateral musculature by revisiting the side plank. Can you lift your leg up while keeping your hips up rather than letting them drop?

Finally, it’s time to focus on the posterior muscles in the bridge. Come up into position. Can you lift a leg to continue that line, while keeping the hips level?

If you want to build core strength and stability from beginner level up, take a look at my online programme: Build core strength & stability 12 week program for beginners (

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