here are a lot of mistakes we make in the gym, and let’s face it, we can’t be perfect (as much as we try to be). There’s always an exercise we haven’t mastered or a muscle group we haven’t hit as much as others. One area we see quite a few flaws with, is mostly in how we train our core. There’s a lot of misconceptions, and mistakes we make when training our core, and today I’m here to break down just a few of the most common errors we make in our routines.

1.     Muscle Engagement

One of the biggest mistakes typically come down to lack of muscular engagement of the actual core muscles. The muscles that make up our core include: The Obliques, Transverse Abdominis (TVA), Rectus Abdominis and Erector Spinae, along with the pelvic floor muscles, multifidus, and diaphragm. For the most part, will be primarily focusing on the Obliques, TVA, Rectus Abdominis and Erector Spinae.

If we don’t know how to properly activate these muscles, our body will recruit muscles around the area to assist in the movement. This is mostly seen with the hip flexors or hamstrings taking over for movements like Sit-ups and Leg Raises. To isolate our core muscles, we need to view these as the primary movers, which can be a bit humbling to most if we’ve been cranking out hundreds of reps with poor form.

For many movements, this can be fixed by creating a shift in the pelvis back into a posterior position (think about tucking your tail bone between your legs) or by squeezing the glutes. By doing this, you engage the core muscles before beginning the exercise, so the focus in more on these muscles right off the bat, rather than trying to engagement them mid movement. Like any other muscle, we need to think about using the muscle we are targeting, not just performing the movement.

2.     Slacking During Other Exercises

One of the best things with core training, is that you don’t need to isolate your core to do it. Almost every exercise we do requires some form of core bracing, which means we should be getting residual work through the other exercises we do. This is why we should be training more with dumbbells, kettlebells, barbells and other so called “functional” equipment opposed to training with machine-based weight systems. When we are seated or when we are not in full control of the resistance we are using, it takes a lot of stabilization out of the exercise, and it takes a large amount of core work out of it too.

If we are squatting, we are using our core to brace our spine. If we are deadlifting, we are using our core to brace our spine. When we are Bench Pressing, we are bracing our core to ensure we stay on the bench. We should always be bracing our core in any exercise we are doing, which will help develop stronger core muscles when given the chance. So, let’s not forget to activate the core, if you need a cue for this, think of pulling your belly button in towards your spine.

3.     Add Variety into Training

This might be the most important point in this entire post but adding in more variety to our routine is essential for developing a stronger core. If we are doing hundreds of Crunches, Sit-ups, Leg raises, and Twists, taking up hours at the gym or at home, we need to reassess how we are training ourselves.

Like every other muscle in our body, the core muscles need stimulation to make changes. We wouldn’t be doing hundreds of biceps curls, shoulder presses, and triceps dips to develop stronger or bigger arms, so why do we think this is going to be an effective way to train our core? To strengthen our core, we need to add load, add variation, and switch up our focuses while training. We all want to “tone” our mid-section section, but we still need to strengthen the muscles, add more stabilization, more flexibility, and more endurance overall. Remember, the Core Muscles are just that, the core of our workout which helps the spinal position during all movements. Adding resistance, more time under tension, varying between rep based exercises and timed exercises, and changing the positions we are moving through are all ways we can add more stimulus to abdominal muscles.

Add weight while doing twists, focus on the eccentric portion of a Sit-Up (coming down), do as many knee tucks in a minute as possible or elevate a body part while holding a plank. There are so many ways to add more variety to our exercises, and to progress our core based movements rather than simply adding more reps. This aspect of core training is grossly overlooked and can make a huge difference as we are looking to strengthen our abs. Program and progress!

4.     Breathing Techniques

Breathing is an important part of life, let alone exercise. Many times, we try to hold our breath or breath improperly as we do our exercises. As silly as it is to say, we need to teach ourselves how to breathe properly throughout our exercises to brace our core and ensure stability of the spine. Stabilizing the spine is great and all, but did you know your breathing technique could help with getting a more effective core workout?

It’s true, simply learning to breath properly through our core workouts can effectively increase the stimulation. This goes back to ensure we are getting proper muscle engagement as we are doing the activity. Once we are doing that, if we are inhaling and exhaling through our diaphragm (belly breathing) it can enhance the amount of contraction we attain during the core motion. As we are moving into the contracted position of our exercise (ex. Lifting our legs for a leg raise) it will naturally contract the core muscles more as we exhale through the diaphragm.

Remember to breath out during the hard part of the movement, and breath in during the easier part of the exercise, all through the belly.

And last but not least….

5.     Getting that Six Pack from Core Training

The grand finale, is a moment of realization for many of us, and a devastating one at that… No, training your core will not give you six pack abs. We can do as many Sit-ups every day as humanly possible, but without a complete workout and nutrition overhaul, we will not see abs develop. Granted, working on the core muscles can make the muscles “pop” more and be more defined, but above all else we need to shed the body fat above it before that happens.

While exercise has been proven to boost our ability to drop body fat, especially the larger muscle recruiting exercises and higher intensity training, we need to focus on our nutrition to lose that body fat.

“Abs are made in the kitchen”

It’s a common saying in the fitness industry and it is a thousand percent true. This doesn’t simply mean we need to starve ourselves, eat nothing but salads, or drop all the carbs, but it does mean we have to be mindful of what we put in our body and access what a realistic goal would be. Unfortunately, many of us aren’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to see the defined six-pack we would all like, which is okay! We need to balance our lifestyle, and abs do not indicate health. We’ll save body fat percentages for another day, but the big takeaway here is that exercise alone will not cut it if you want abs, we have to eat properly if we want it.

In Summery:

    –        Engage the muscles we are looking to work (mind-muscle connection)

    –        Don’t let you core bracing stop for our other lifts

    –        Change up the way we train our core muscles (Periodize)

    –        Use belly breaths to get a deeper abdominal contraction,

-Six-Packs are made in the kitchen

So there you have it crew, 5 common Core Training Mistakes. Are you guilty of any of these? Was there any points you wanted to go more in-depth with? Well check out the links to my social media pages to reach out, or drop a comment on this post and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

Until next time, we’ll see you on the floor getting real results!

Rich Hill

CSEP – Certified Personal Trainer

RK Athleticshttps://linktr.ee/RK_Athletics

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