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Core Strength and Sport Performance

Dr. Jennifer Hopp, Program Director, Women's Sports Medicine Program

They call it CORE for a reason.

Do you want a faster pitch, shave a few seconds off your 100m sprint time, a more efficient swim stroke, or quicker feet on the soccer field? Practice helps, but a strong core can improve posture and help you generate more power in whatever sport or activity you enjoy. A strong core helps stabilize the upper body and the pelvis while also supporting the low back, allowing an athlete to perform complex athletic movements that require coordination, balance, and technical skills.

Core is not just a “six-pack” abs. The core is a group of muscles in the abdomen, flanks, back, and even the pelvic floor muscles that act as dynamic and static stabilizers. From a dynamic perspective, these muscles are responsible for holding our trunk upright and stable as our upper body and lower body move. For example, a pole vaulter engages their core strength to stay upright as their legs power through a sprint toward their jump while also stabilizing a pole with their upper extremity. When we hold a position for an extended period, the core remains contracted, helping us maintain a static position. A long-distance swimmer relies on their core strength to hold their trunk in the same position throughout their swim.

The idea behind core strength improving sports performance started about 30 years ago. Initial research revealed improved performance on sport-related activities in athletes with a strong core. It quickly became fashionable to include sit-ups in athletic training. In the past ten years of research, the amount of improvement to sports performance has shown to be statiscally significant, but small. A study from Aug 2020 of professional swimmers showed that a 6-week core strengthening program reduced their 50m swim time by 0.3 seconds. Admittedly small, but keep in mind that in the 50m Mens race at the summer Olympics in 2016, the difference between gold and bronze was only .14 seconds.

More recent research has begun to link injury prevention with the addition of core strengthening during practices and training. An article in The American Journal of Sports Medicine (Dec 2020) looked at core strength and side cutting maneuvers of 48 athletic participants. They found that the participants with greater core strength had reduced knee valgus and hip adduction with cutting, putting them at lower risk for ACL tears.  Additional research has shown that strong core muscles also:

Are you sold yet?

Adding just one to two different dynamic core-strengthening moves to each practice, training, or general exercise routine can have huge benefits to preventing future injuries, keeping athletes “in the game” and off the bench. Sit-ups alone are no longer trendy. This movement targets only the rectus abdominis. Dynamic core strengthening works to target several core muscles in just one exercise, recruiting muscles to work together to support the body. These are efficient and time-saving, allowing athletes to reap the benefits of a stronger core while competing and practicing. Below is a table of just a few core moves and the muscles they activate. Incorporating dynamic core work into practices, training, and exercise will help performance and decrease the risk of injury and time away from the activity.

Examples of Core Exercises Showing Proper and Improper Form



Muscles Activated


Erector spinae, Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis


Erector spinae, Rectus Abdominis, Glutes


Erector spinae, rectus abdominis, glutes. 
Watch example video.

Plank with lateral hip drop

TA, Gluteus medius & minimus, External and Internal Obliques
Watch example video.

Walking Bear

Erector spinae, Rectus abdominis, Glutes, External and Internal Obliques

Plank Bird-Dog

Erector spinae, rectus abdominis, Glutes


Rectus Abdominis, Obliques, Low back, Glutes

Dr. Jennifer Hopp.jpg

Dr. Jennifer Hopp

Jennifer Hopp, MD, is a board certified Primary Care Sports Medicine Physician. She is the Program Director for the Women’s Sports Medicine Program, specializing in multi-disciplinary care for active and athletic female patients. She cares for athletes of all ages and abilities, from the weekend warrior to the professional athlete. Prior to moving to New Hampshire in 2020, she was the team physician at several high schools and the University of Richmond.

She is a team physician at the University of New Hampshire and enjoys providing medical coverage for games and races. An avid runner and cyclist herself, she has experienced many injuries first hand and understands that recovering from an injury is just as important as being an athlete.

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