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.

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.

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?

by: Mark Rice
by: Stephen Thomas


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