10 Mistakes to Avoid When Training Your Core

Anthony J. Yeung
by Anthony J. Yeung
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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Training Your Core

Wanting toned abs is pretty universal. However, many people still make critical mistakes that hinder results. (And there’s nothing worse than working your tail off in the gym only to struggle to achieve your goals.)

Here are the 10 most common mistakes people make while training their core:

Exercises like situps and crunches generate too much flexion and bending at your core, which worsens your posture and fails to use your core as it was intended — to keep your midsection stable and still.

Fix: Try exercises where your core has to resist bending — rollouts, planks and jackknifes are great choices.

As with bending and flexing, twisting is another movement your core is not designed to do. Actually, it’s designed to resist twisting. That way, it can keep your spine safe.

Fix: Avoid heavy, twisting exercises for your abs — instead, brace your core, keep it in a good, neutral posture and work on resisting twisting forces. Try exercises like anti-rotational chops, single-arm carries and Paloff presses.

Most people focus only on their rectus abdominis or their “six-pack” muscles, but there’s so much more to your core than that.

Fix: Pay attention to your external and internal obliques, your transverse abdominus (your deeper core muscles) and even your pelvic floor. By training these muscles, you’ll develop a strong, powerful core that will help you in the gym or on the field.

The key to any core exercise is correct positioning and posture — that way, you target the correct muscles instead of relying on the wrong ones. But often, when you see someone hold a plank, they’ll sag their lower back or stick out their ribcage, which turns off the abs and shifts all the emphasis to their lumbar spine.

Fix: Always use correct technique when doing core exercises. Keep your lower back flat, your pelvis neutral and your ribcage down (like after a loud sigh).

Core training is more than counting all the reps or sets — it’s also about controlling your breath while doing your exercises.

Fix: Add a controlled inhale and exhale at the top of every core exercise and focus on breathing through your diaphragm, not with your chest and shoulders.

Planks and rollouts are great (and popular) core exercises, but they only train the core in one direction — from front to back, which is called the “sagittal plane.” Your core is built to transfer force and energy in a variety of angles: from side to side, diagonally, anti-rotation, etc.

Fix: Make sure you target your core from many different directions. For example, add side planks and chops to your ab training for better results.

“Abs are made in the kitchen,” as the old saying goes. It doesn’t matter how strong your core is; if you’re carrying too much body fat around your belly, your abs will never show.

Fix: If you want to drop body fat, eat healthy, whole foods and aim for a daily caloric deficit of 500 calories. Choose lean sources of protein, lots of veggies, whole carbs and root vegetables on your workout days.

If you want strong and sexy abs, you need to use total-body strength exercises like deadlifts, presses and squats. First, these exercises help you develop a powerful core. Second, they put more stimulus on your body, which generates more muscle growth (and more fat loss).

Fix: Regardless of your ab goals, make sure to use major exercises like squats, deadlifts, presses, rows and pullups.

How long should you hold a plank for? 30 seconds? 60 seconds? Several minutes? The truth is, if you can hold a good plank for at least 1 minute, it’s time to find something more challenging (instead of just holding it for longer).

Fix: Use all the tools in your gym to crank up the intensity. Stability balls, ab wheels and even the TRX can help you blast your abs for the stimulus they needs to get stronger and more muscular.

Sometimes, people train their core everyday because they want better results, faster. But like any muscle group, if you train your abs everyday, they’ll fatigue and struggle to recover.

Fix: Make sure to take days off throughout the week to rest your core and allow it to rebuild muscle fibers and adapt. Depending on the intensity, you only need to train your abs 3–4 times a week, at the most.

About the Author

Anthony J. Yeung
Anthony J. Yeung

Anthony, a certified strength and conditioning specialist, is a fitness expert at Esquire, GQ and Men’s Health and gets guys in shape for their wedding at GroomBuilder.

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