Integration Core Exercises Elicit Greater Muscle Activation Than Isolation Exercises
Gottschall JS, Mills J, Hastings B. J Strength Cond Res. 2013 Mar;27(3):590-6. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e31825c2cc7
Take Home Message: Exercises that elicit abdominal/lumbar co-contraction coupled with shoulder and hip activation (integration exercise) provoke greater core muscle activation than muscle isolation exercises.
It is widely accepted that a strong core will benefit the individual in sports performance, rehabilitation, and general fitness. However, knowing what type of exercises to select to aid performance and prevent injuries is absolutely paramount. While most studies have focused on isolation type exercises, no studies have been done to determine if muscle isolation exercises elicits greater muscle activation compared with abdominal/lumbar co-contraction coupled with shoulder and hip activation (integration). Gotschall et al. hypothesized that isolation type exercises will elicit greater abdominal/lumbar muscle activation compared with integration-style exercises. For this study they recruited 20 (10 male, 10 female) healthy college aged students. Participants had surface electromyography placed on six core muscles: the rectus abdominis, external oblique, lumbar erector spinae, thoracic erector spinae, anterior deltoid and gluteus maximus. The participants then performed 7 core exercises (4 isolation and 3 integration, respectively): the crunch, an oblique crunch, prone back extension with forward arm elevation, bird dog with resistance and hover with contralateral arm reach, side plank with arm raise, and mountain climber with alternating hip flexion to the opposite elbow. Results showed that integration style exercises had a greater amount of rectus and lumbar extensor muscle activation compared with isolation exercises. Most notably when comparing the isolation abdominal crunch with prone hover with lateral reach, there was a 27% increase in rectus abdominis and external oblique activity for the hover. Furthermore, there was a 2-fold increase in lumbar erector spinae activity during integration style exercises. Integrated thoracic extension (Birddog) also elicited a 38% increase in lumbar and thoracic erector spinae activity when compared with the prone forward arm elevation isolation exercise. The same integration exercise elicited a 3-fold increase in external oblique activity as a result of the contralateral arm/leg raising.
While the findings of this study are interesting and enlightening, it is not surprising that integration style exercises were superior at eliciting greater muscle activity. These exercises are designed to activate the core functionally and create overall stability as opposed to isolation exercises that elicit a concentric contraction. For example, the resisted pointer (birddog) and the prone hover exercises elicit activation in the sagittal plane, but there is also an anti-rotational and stability component. This requires co-contraction of the entire core which creates greater muscle activation. The integration style exercises attempt to build isometric stability while performing functional activities. This study suggests that by performing integration style exercises athletes can optimize muscle activity thereby improving performance and prevent injuries. When performing core strengthening regimens, do you use isolation or integration style exercises, or a combination? If you are using both styles, isolation and integration, at what point do you begin to use one versus the other?
Written by: Mark Rice
Reviewed by: Stephen Thomas
Related Posts:Gottschall JS, Mills J, & Hastings B (2013). Integration core exercises elicit greater muscle activation than isolation exercises. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 27 (3), 590-6 PMID: 22580983