Critical analysis of evidence of core training and its impact
in the performance of athletes, and how these effects could
be useful to improve performance of handball players

Análisis crítico de la evidencia del core training y su impacto en el rendimiento de los atletas, y la forma 

en que estos efectos podrían ser útiles para mejorar el rendimiento de los jugadores de balonmano


Licenciado en Educación, U.M.C.E. – Chile

Magister en Entrenamiento Deportivo, U. Mayor - Chile

Master en Diseño, Gestión y Dirección de Proyectos

U. Europea Miguel de Cervantes - España

Master © Strength and Conditioning

University of Edinburgh, Escocia, Reino Unido

Embajador del programa de Internacional de Entrenadores

“ITK experts in global sports”, U. de Leipzig, Alemania

Docente Instructor en Instituto Profesional DUOC UC, Chile

Sebastian Ignacio Espoz Lazo








          The aim of this document is to give information about the effects that the “CORE” training have on the sport performance of Handball players. For these purposes, critical analysis has been made on different published evidence from impact journals, which have shown relevant results about the effectiveness of “CORE” training on the performance on different sport disciplines.

          Keywords: Handball. Performance. Core training. Core stability.



          El presente documento tiene por objetivo entregar información sobre los efectos que tiene el entrenamiento del “CORE” sobre el rendimiento deportivo en jugadores de Balonmano. Para ello se realizó un análisis crítico a distintas evidencias publicadas en revistas de impacto científico, en los cuales se dieron a conocer resultados relevantes sobre la efectividad del entrenamiento del “CORE” para el rendimiento en diferentes disciplinas deportivas.

          Palabras clave: Balonmano. Rendimiento. Entrenamiento del CORE. Estabilidad del CORE.


Reception: 12/12/2015 - Acceptance: 01/23/2016


EFDeportes.com, Revista Digital. Buenos Aires, Año 20, Nº 213, Febrero de 2016. http://www.efdeportes.com/

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    The performance of handball players during training or competitions is affected by a wide range of factors. Such components include the intense contact, the large amount of motor skills such running, jumping, throwing, pushing, pulling, changing direction (Rowland, 1970), and the influence of coordination, strength, endurance, anthropometric characteristics, social relationships (between players and coach) and cognition skills (Wagner, Finkenzeller, Würth, & von Duvillard, 2014). In present times, core training has become another factor that may have an important influence on sports performance. This is a topic that it is currently being driven by the large amount of research since the early 1980’s with regards to core stability and strength, injury prevention and low back pain treatments, all of which have shown positive effects (Hibbs, Thompson, French, Wrigley, & Spears, 2008). The term “core training” is not easy to define. The definitions of core stability and core strength are commonly confused in many studies despite the difference between them, specifically concerning the muscles that are involved (Hibbs et al., 2008). However, in any case, the core involves “major abdominal muscles” (Brown, 2006) and “the lumbo-pelvic region of the body, which is essential to provide a foundation for effective movements” (Williardson, 2007). This is “vital to trunk stabilization and power production” (Mannie, 2001). Therefore, core training could be defined as the process to develop stability and strength of the lumbo-pelvic and abdominal region, oriented to the stabilisation of the trunk and production of power. The present document is a critical review of published research about “core training” and the effect it has on the performance of athletes, as well an analysis of how the results could have an influence on the performance of Handball players. Sources for this critical review were found from electronic databases including “EBSCOhost” and “OVID” through the search engine “DiscoverED” of the University of Edinburgh, using the following search terms: “Core Training” OR “Core Stability Training” OR “Core Strength Training” AND “Performance” AND “Handball” OR “Athletes”. Pertinent references from literature were also used. Selection criteria to choose research obtained from electronic databases included: “studies that show effect of core training (stability and/or strength) in performance of sports athletes (elite and/or not elite) on field sports”. Criteria to reject research obtained from electronic databases was: “studies that show core training only related to injury prevention and/or treatments”.


    Due to the nature of Handball, where the player must perform the game through the application of several motor skills such running, jumping, changing direction as well as to catching, throwing, pulling and pushing (García & Cubilla, 1990), the relationship between the core (lumbo-pelvic and abdominal muscles) and extremities should be given important consideration. Evidence of an intervention of six weeks of core training (mainly stability) has shown a significant improvement on lower limb balance strength (Dello Iacono, Padulo & Ayalon, 2015). Positive results were obtained in the reduction of inter-limb muscular asymmetries from 5.4% + 0.11 to 1.6% + 0.2 in core training group vs 4.8% + 0.3 to 7.11% + 0.1 in control group. However, the battery of activities proposed by this investigation considers six weeks of training composed of six exercises aimed to improve balance and core stability, but followed by 5 exercises to develop lower limb strength and neuromuscular control. These included walking lunge, frontal balance stance, lateral balance stance, shoulder contact, and sprint and stop in a delimitated space. These remaining five drills might have the positive impact on the reduction of lower-limb asymmetries due to the specificity of the exercises in relation to strength and neuro-control of lower extremities, compromising the genuine effect of core training on the lower-limb balance strength. Nevertheless, athletes must have good strength in the hip and trunk muscle to provide good core stability, in relation to perform good balance, production of effective energy, and protect body symmetry. “A diminished core strength and stability is thought to result in inefficient technique”. (Hibbs et al., 2008). Despite the specific exercises for strength and motor control, the positives results in the study of Dello Iacono et al. (2015) that where obtained by countermovement jump measurements and isokinetic dynamometer, could only be given with the development of a stable core as a manner to control the dissipation of the forces produced by lower extremities, “correctly transferring energy from upper body to lower body and vice versa, which could be beneficial to technique” (Cissik, 2011). Another study has shown significant results on the effects of six weeks of core training on throwing velocity in female handball players (Saeterbakken, van den Tillaar & Seiler, 2011). In this case, core training was performed through sling exercise training with the objective to stimulate core stability (Figure 1). Maximal throwing velocity, after core training, significantly increased 4.9%, from 17.9 + 0.5 to 18.8 + 0.4 mxs-1, in core stability group, showing no difference in control group, from 17.1 + 0.4 v/s 16.9 + 0.4 mxs-1. Despite this evidence, all the exercise performed was in a close kinetic chain on an unstable surface, and the velocity of throwing was measured with the players standing still in the floor while the throwing (open kinetic chain) in handball players is commonly done running or jumping (Manchado, Tortosa-Martinez, Vila, Ferragut & Platen, 2013). This means that this protocol of core training and measures could not necessary be transferable to handball in reality. However, it has been demonstrated that there is “a higher core muscle activity when resistance exercises have been performed on a unstable surface vs a stable surface” (Williardson, 2007), 4 which could mean that an unstable surface core training protocol that effectively activates core muscles could help to improve stability of the core. This will allow the positive transference of energy from the running or the jumping to the velocity of throwing in Handball players. In addition, it is also been proven that the effect of six weeks of closed kinetic chain and open kinetic chain with core stability training improves during functional testing the accuracy of throwing, upper extremity stability, and core endurance of the abdominal muscle in baseball players (Lust, Sandrey, Bulger & Wilder, 2009) - this is also a relevant factor for the Handball player (Manchado et al., 2013). Nevertheless, Lust et al. (2009) study does not explain the effect of isolated core training to throwing accuracy. More research about this topic should be done.

Figure 1. Saeterbakker, van den Tillaar, & Seiler, 2011

    Core training related to athletes performance is a study which has compared two protocols of training: core training vs plyometric training during seven weeks of intervention (Myer, Ford, Brent, & Hewett, 2006), showing that neuromuscular training protocol, performing dynamic balance exercises (core training) can improve biomechanics and neuromuscular performance reducing the landing force in a 7%, while plyometric protocol increase it 7.6%. Myer et al. (2006) study has also demonstrate that seven weeks of core training can reduce anterior cruciate ligament 5 (ACL) injury risk, which have an increasing incidence over indoor sport athletes since the last 10 years (Arendt, Agel, & Dick, 1999), and which in handball occurs during a non-contact plant and cut movement or when landing from a jump shot (Olsen, Myklebust, Engebretsen, Holme & Bahr, 2003). Nevertheless, the study of Myer, Ford et al. have shown that plyometric training might also indirectly reduce the risk of ACL injury due to the adaptation of bones and connective tissue (Fleck & Falkel, 1986) suggesting that core training is not necessary relevant for this issue. However, plyometric protocols focusing on resistance training are not directly related to injury prevention according to Myer et al (2006). Unlike the preceding paragraphs, the study of Nesser and Lee (2009) has suggested that core training does not have a relationship with strength and power on female soccer players and should not be the focus of strength and conditioning program on any team sport. This study has explained the tests application for the research and its corresponding results, and does not specify the protocol of core training performed. The lack of information about training intervention deems the research unreliable. Non-systematic protocol of core training might be the reason for no effects on performance after core training intervention.


    The aim of this document was to critically review the effect of core training on different factors that influence athlete’s performance and, in this way, analyze the relationship between the results of reviewed studies to propose core training as an effective or non-effective method to improve performance in handball players. Three out of five reviewed studies have applied six weeks of core training intervention showing the positives effects of core training on relevant factors for effective performance in athletes. One study used a seven week intervention of core training evidencing benefits on performance; only one study has shown no effects of core training on performance, but no core training protocol was explained. Therefore, six or more weeks of core training could produce effective benefits to increase performance in Handball players. This would be consistent with the reference of the study of Sato and Mokha (2009) where it is argued that 4 sessions per week for six weeks is the minimum of training volume to produce significant effects on performance of athletes. All reviewed studies have performed their own battery of core training exercises. One study used a core training protocol based on the circuit training methodology (Dello Iacono et al., 2015), where 11 exercises were consecutively repeated for three times with 20 seconds of rest between them and one minute intersets. By the other hand, other study have applied a sling exercise training (Saeterbakken et al., 2011) whereby four sets of 4-6 repetitions maximum (RM) were performed for each exercise, with 1-2 minutes of rest between sets. A third study used a battery of core training based mainly on the use of the Bozu platform (Myer et al., 2006), performing a different amount of repetitions for each exercise, without detailing 6 a rest period. One remaining study used in its core training program a progression of exercises (dead bug, partial sit-ups, bridging, prone exercises, quadruped exercises, wall slides, and ball exercises). The program started with 30 seconds, progressing to one minute and 45 seconds. All these different protocols might indicate the need of more studies to determinate an accurate protocol intervention to improve performance by core training in handball players. Practical Applications Despite all substantial evidence indicating beneficial effects of core training on athletic performance, it is not possible to determine a specific protocol for Handball players, and it is also difficult to describe the direct benefits of core training in their performance. Thus, it is recommended to develop further research on this topic. However, the use of a battery of core training exercises related to general fitness is recommended, since in most cases in this review it has been demonstrated that a stable and strong core can produce significant contributions to some factors of an athlete's performance.


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