Abdominal Strength Test

Before you know where to start in terms of strengthening your core you are wise to do an abdominal strength test:
Active Straight Leg Raise Test or
These core strength tests, unlike a lot of strength tests you see on the internet, do not involve sit ups or crunches. Sit ups, after all are not terribly functional. Rather, we need to determine if you are able to maintain a stable core or neutral position as limb movement takes place. Life is full of situations where we move our limbs, sometimes under load, sometimes during sports, but even just during daily activities. Opening heavy doors, getting in and out of a car. All these activities require a stable trunk to allow movement and leverage of our arms and legs. If we don't have that stability in our core, the joints in our spine can undergo excessive shearing forces leaving us vulnerable to arthritis, disc damage, strains and sprains.

We use these tests in the clinic. For someone with an underlying back or pelvic problem the active straight leg raise test will often cause pain. If you find you have pain or score a 5 on the ASLR test you may want to get some assistance from a personal trainer or mention it to your physical therapist.

Using abdominal crunches to determine abdominal strength has its place in some circles, but I've seen weightlifters with amazing rectus and obliques that still have outrageously weak spines.

Active Straight Leg Raise Test

You can use the active straight leg raise test (ASLR) as an abdominal strength test to give you an idea where to start. While lying on your back put your hand behind your lower back. Try to raise your right leg up 20 cm off the floor without bending your knee. As you raise your leg you should not feel your lower back arch up off the floor. Score your ability as follows: 

0 = no difficulty at all
1 = minimal difficulty
2 = somewhat difficult
3 = fairly difficult
4 = very difficult
5 = unable to do

Repeat this exercise with your left leg. 

Repeat this exercise with your left leg.

The sum of these scores can be used to guide you through the difficulty of the exercise ball exercises. For example, if you score 0-2, you can probably advance to the intermediate exercises more quickly than someone who scores higher than a 2. If you score higher on this abdominal strength test than an 8, proceed cautiously and spend lots of time familiarizing yourself with the beginner exercises prior to advancing to the more difficult ones.

If you feel any discomfort doing the above test, then contact a physical therapist prior to beginning any exercise ball exercises. You do not have enough trunk control to begin without supervision. Read our precautions.


  Another way of determining core strength is using the plank exercise. Although most people see this as an exercise, it can also be used to give you a good idea of where you're at in terms of core control.

It's called the plank for obvious reasons. Your points of contact with the ground are your toes and forearms. 

  1. Start by putting a watch on the floor beside you.
  2. Lift yourself up onto your toes and forearms making sure hips are not sagging, abdominals are engaged, chin is tucked in, and knees are straight.
  3. Breath normally and hold this position until technical failure.

 Stop when any one of the following occurs:

  • your pelvis or lower back sags
  • your trunk starts to shake
  • your shoulders or arms shake
  • you feel any discomfort
  • your knees touch the floor
  • or
  • your chin sticks out

Take a look at your time for this abdominal strength test. Some people can only hold this position for 5 seconds. If you are one of them you need to start exercise ball exercises cautiously and be extra careful that you can maintain neutral position throughout the exercises. You have very weak stabilizers.

Try the plank as an exercise to fatigue daily to improve core stability and eventually your time will improve.

If you are able to hold this for a full 30-60 seconds before technical failure you are off to a good start.

Useful Information
Find your neutral position
Some floor exercises you should master
Basic precautions