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Core Training Isn’t Ab Workouts

sandbag training

I believe one big reason that core training often doesn’t get the respect it deserves is because it is commonly confused with ab workouts. In fact, most posts I see about core training are just people using a popular term to really discuss just doing ab work they would have generally done anyways. So, what is the difference?

Understanding core training takes a bit of science to really appreciate. I’m going to share with you a few key points and if you are a little overwhelmed, don’t worry, I will help make sense of it all.

There is so much evidence like this 2021 paper in The American Journal of Sports Medicine explains…

“…the ability to control the core is important during sports activities, as it provides a stable foundation for the movement of distal segments. These core muscles, which include the muscles of the trunk and pelvis, are known to be activated before the prime movement of the extremities to provide proximal stability for distal mobility. For these reasons, core stability is important and has become a major interest in sports for injury prevention…

The results of this study supported our hypothesis that core muscle strengthening would decrease the knee valgus and hip adduction angles and increase the VM:VL activation ratio. These significant changes identified in joint kinematics caused by altered muscle activation patterns provide novel evidence that core strength training can modify an individual’s motor control strategy.”

core training

What researchers are saying that when our body has better proximal stability which means stability of the torso and most importantly the spine, we get three major benefits.

  1. Our arms and legs can produce more force and therefore build greater strength because of the stable foundation.
  2. We gain better mobility in our hips, shoulders, and thoracic spine because the nervous system will reduce the “brakes” it puts on when it senses instability in order to protect our body.
  3. Good core training can build injury resilience of distal segments like the shoulders and knees while also helping more obvious areas like the low back through better control over these areas of the body and reducing the stress they receive as well as getting the muscles to work together more effectively.

As a 2017 paper in The International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy explains, “Stability of the spine involves three subsystems: active, passive, and neural control. The active system incorporates the muscles surrounding the spine that produce the forces necessary for stability. The passive system incorporates non-contractile tissues, such as ligaments, that provide stability at the end ranges of motion. The neural system receives afferent information from the trunk and extremities and sends efferent signals for muscle activation and motor patterns for spinal stability. As muscle tone and motor patterns improve, spinal stability should also be enhanced, decreasing low back pain.”

core stability

This refers to the fact that core stability isn’t about what any one individual muscle does, but rather how muscles work together. Our body works in these chains so if the chain is disrupted you just don’t work on the part, you have to teach the whole how to work. That is why core training that Caroline Juster shows in this Ultimate Sandbag series brings the science of good core training to life.

There are several keys that make these superior core drills…


-Load: weight can actually help with feedback to the body that helps us learn how to properly brace and integrate the over 30 muscles of the core synergistically.

-Tension: you can see Caroline is building better coordination of the core through the tension she creates by actively pulling apart the Ultimate Sandbag which brings in more muscles to stabilize properly. The width of her grip and the pliability makes the USB such a powerful tool for great core training.

-Connection: the grip, load, tension, and direction of the movement she creates builds a great connection to ALL the muscles throughout the core.

-Friction: in the case of the drags, friction along with grip, and pressure into the ground is what makes these exercises awesome! Just moving a weight back and forth is challenging, but the feedback to the body is what makes the friction so important and the dimension of the Ultimate Sandbag does this so much better!

Here is the best part, when you perform smarter core training you are working your abs plenty! Not only working your abs, but you are teaching them to work better and allowing you to produce greater strength not just of the trunk, but will impact the arms and legs as well. When you add in better stability of these joints, greater mobility in often problematic areas, you can see why core training isn’t a trendy term for ab workouts, but a specific system of making the body better in so many ways.

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