For a study published this year, researchers at Indiana State University had a group of healthy, young adults [do a lot of exercises]…
The researchers had expected that the volunteers with the sturdiest cores would outshine the others on the tests of physical performance. But they did not. There was little correlation in this study between robust core muscles and athleticism.
Findings about the effect of standard core exercises on athleticism, though, have been mixed. A representative study of collegiate rowers, for instance, found that after eight weeks of an arduous core-exercise regimen — added to their normal workout routines — the rowers had great-looking abs but weren’t better rowers;
But in another study, this time of novice adult runners who displayed weak core strength in preliminary testing, those who completed six weeks of core training drills lowered their five-kilometer run times significantly more than a control group of beginning runners who did not focus on their midsections.
And while everyone needs some basic minimum of core strength — getting up out of a chair requires a certain amount of core strength; serving a tennis ball requires more – “six or eight crunches would be plenty,” he said, “and only a few times a week.”
The argument kind of reminds me of one from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, about how success at different school levels (HS, college, grad, law, medical, PhD) isn’t necessarily based upon your IQ; rather, you performance is based upon having an IQ greater than a certain minimum amount at each school level (combined with effort level, if you pass the minimum bar).
The results here seem to say that for most sport activities there is a minimum core strength needed- and that that minimum is not very high, though higher than what a non-athlete would have, as evidenced by the novice runner study (and corroborated by my own experience as an on-again off-again runner). And that that minimum can be achieved simply by doing the sport itself, and not extra crunches.
Or forgo the crunches altogether. “Personally, I do not believe that it is necessary to specifically train the core,” said Thomas Nesser, an associate professor of exercise science at Indiana State and senior author of the study about core stability and performance. In most instances, if you “train for your sport, core strength will develop,” he said, and it will be the right amount and type of core strength for that sport.