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Are You Overtraining Your Core?

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people doing crunches together

Sit-ups. Planks. Superman. Core exercises are a common component of many fitness routines. However, focusing on your abdominals too much may be doing you more harm than good. 

Cooper Fitness Center Professional Fitness Trainers Tonya Gutch, MS, and Chris Parker, MS, explain the most common mistakes when it comes to overtraining your core and tips for prevention. 

How much is too much?   
If you’re trying to tone your mid-section, you may find yourself performing core exercises frequently. So, how do you know when it’s too much? 

“Overtraining occurs when a person pushes a particular muscle group too hard and past the point their body can recover,” says Gutch. 

In other words, overtraining happens when either the weight you’re exercising with is too heavy or you’re performing too many repetitions without adequate rest periods. When this happens, the body will begin to break itself down instead of building itself up. 

“Completing hundreds of sit-ups or extended minutes of holding planks doesn’t serve as an optimal way to train the core,” says Parker. “In fact, it can actually lead to injury instead of progress.”

Things to avoid 
“When it comes to training the core, the most common mistake I see is people only working on their ‘six-pack,’” says Gutch. “What they don’t realize is the core involves the abdominals, spine stabilizers, glutes and hip flexors.” Instead of performing endless crunches, it is important to include a variety of exercises in your exercise program. Medicine ball slams, glute bridges or step-up knee drives all serve as excellent alternatives that engage your spine, glutes and hip flexors.

Many people focus too much on abdominals in an attempt to lose belly fat, which Parker explains doesn’t prove beneficial. Unfortunately, we can’t control where fat is lost, otherwise known as spot reduction, which means working certain muscles won’t necessarily lead to loss of fat in areas around those muscles. 

Aside from too much weight or repetition, Parker says improper form can also cause problems. “Some people can’t properly stabilize their spine,” says Parker. “They don’t know how it feels to maintain a stable core or the exercise is too difficult to maintain a stable core and then compensation occurs.” 

For non-stabilization exercises, such as sit-ups, many compensate by utilizing other muscles to make the exercise easier. While this may allow a person to complete more repetitions or use more resistance, the abdominal muscles aren’t being targeted properly.

What to do 
Looking to build the perfect core routine?  Strive to perform exercises in all three planes of motion: 

  • Frontal plane (ex: side planks)
  • Sagittal plane (ex: front planks) 
  • Transverse plane (ex: wood chops)

For the most effective core-training routine, Gutch and Parker recommend:

  • Work the core 2-3 days per week
  • Schedule at least one full day of recovery in-between
  • Perform 2-3 exercises, 2-3 sets each 
  • Aim for 8-10 repetitions with no more than 15-20  
  • Try not to repeat any exercise in a given week

Aside from weight-bearing exercises, try incorporating these practical steps into your daily routine to help improve your core:

  • Eat a healthy diet 
  • Perform cardio exercises
  • Manage stress 
  • Get enough sleep

If you’re unsure how to create a proper core exercise routine, seek the hands-on instruction from a certified training expert.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center or to schedule a session with a Professional Fitness Trainer, visit or call 972.233.4832.