Your core is one of the most important parts of your workout, as it affects both your upper and lower body exercises and your daily life. As a trainer, it has been the primary focus for me personally, and I ensure to make it one for my clients as well. Everyone cares about their waistline, no one wants to feel embarrassed if their stomach is exposed. I was once so overweight, when I stepped on a scale and looked down, I couldn’t see the numbers; I made a decision there that it would never happen again, and now, years later and far older was able to obtain a six pack. However, through all my extensive work personally and professionally, here are some mistakes I have seen, so you please avoid them.

1. Poor Nutrition

This the deciding factor for physical fitness in general. Regardless how many crunches you do, how long you can hold a plank, or weight you can put on an ab machine, it won’t mean anything if you eat poorly. You can’t out-exercise bad nutrition. Everyone has abs, in that everyone has abdominal muscles. However, your middle is where most people carry excess fat. If you get close to having visible abs to the point where you can feel them but not see them, that’s a nutrition issue, not a workout issue. Stick to high-protein, low-starchy carbs, low-sodium, and especially low-sugar nutrition plans that will result in a shrinking waistline and can result in your abs beginning to peek out.

2. Only Focusing on a “Six Pack”

Having a good physique isn’t just a sign someone is healthy, it’s a status symbol, you can’t buy it, borrow it, rent it, or steal it – you earn it. A visible sign of a good physique is a sign you are hardworking and dedicated to eating, training, and even life in general. Some people only focus on the end result of a six pack, however avoiding complimentary exercises results in low-quality and unsustainable abdominal muscles. I work obliques and utilize a lot of stabilization exercises to take the burden off of my rectus abdominis, so I can have a more sustainable core.

3. Poor Breathing

Breathing during reps is important for the simple factor of keeping fresh oxygen flowing through your muscles for a longer and more productive workout. This also has to do with your diaphragm. Your diaphragm contracts as you breath in assisting your lungs in expanding. It’s also connected to erectors in your sternum and muscles in your low back. Keeping your diaphragm in a healthy rhythm allows the rest of your body to not have to pick up any slack. Your body is one big kinetic chain and allowing an organ to be out of sync will result in loss of efficiency. So, if you have the hiccups, which is caused by out-of-sync contractions of your diaphragm, put off your core workout until they pass.

4. Cheating on your Reps

Two major factors that contribute to an exceptional workout are consistent tension and range of motion. Ff you are lacking a full extension and contraction of your core muscles or relieve them of tension too quickly, you are only cheating yourself. Some people, during crunches for example lean back too far or sit-up too far forward, or some not enough of either. Some might unknowingly do only a partial contraction of muscles, which maximizes tension, but has little-to-no range of motion. Some will also release tension all together, dropping sustainable weight to relieve pressure on their body before the next rep. This cuts out the tension factor. A simple rule of thumb, if able, during an abdominal exercise, place your hand over the core muscles you wish to work, if you feel they go soft, you have disengaged them meaning you’ve either relieved them of tension of gone too far forward or back and unintentionally switched tension to different muscles.

5. Only Using Machines

Resistance machines do serve a purpose, they allow a focus on muscle groups while lowering the risk of injury to surrounding tendons and joints by stabilizing the weight for you. However, this goes against the purpose of training your core, because it goes against your core’s primary function – which is to stabilize you! If you remove the stabilization element from your core exercises, you are defeating the purpose of the exercise and cutting yourself short. Machines can be used to load up weight on your major core muscles, but without stabilization exercises to accompany them, you will not see any results and unfortunately will simply waste time and effort on an exercise that will not yield any benefit.

6. Being Stale

Muscle growth comes the microscopic tearing and repair of muscle tissue. If you continue to do the exact same core workout you have been, you will unlikely see any change. If you want overall core strength, you can’t just do crunches or machines with weight. You need to do body weight exercises, stabilizing exercises, and even explosive movements that involve core, throw exercises in you are unfamiliar with, this will cause your muscles to react and progress. As you become better at something, it gets easier. If you saw progress at first, when it was difficult, and kept doing it to the point where it’s now easy and have stopped seeing results, then you need to make it more difficult to see results again. Change up your routine by adding new exercises, more weight or reps to existing ones.

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Everyone cares about their waistline. Being able to look at yourself and be happy with how you look and feel is something everyone wants. It something I work hard at with people, so they can feel great about themselves, because I believe they deserve it. Your core requires constant dedication and attention, but if you avoid the pitfalls here, you have the opportunity to get the core you deserve.

– Josh Fuher, PT