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Core Exercise Dos and Don'ts

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The right and wrong way to do a core workout

Want strong, toned abs or wondering how you might be able to reduce back instability and pain and increase mobility and functional movement? The answer is in your core and how you train it. 

Before we get into the dos and dont’s of core training, it’s important to understand exactly what muscles comprise “the core” of your body. While we often think abs when we hear the word core, it goes far beyond just your stomach muscles. The core extends from your shoulders to your hips and includes abdominal muscles, lower back muscles and the diaphragm.  

“The core is the pillar of our body,” says Mary Edwards, Fitness Director and Professional Fitness Trainer at Cooper Fitness Center. “You can equate it to a pillar in a building. Any structural instability in that pillar compromises the structural integrity of the building. The same is true in our body. Any core instability or weakness can pose risk of injury.”

In addition to reducing risk of injury during physical activity or while performing activities of daily living, exercising your core also improves balance, helping your body to withstand the impact of gravity and keep your body upright. A strong core also improves athletic performance and power.

We asked husband-wife duo, Shannon and Mary Edwards, Professional Fitness Trainers at Cooper Fitness Center to give us their best tips to help develop a strong core to improve mobility and function and reduce risk of injury. 

Dos and Dont’s of Core Training

Don’t do the same exercises all the time. Incorporating variety into your core training is essential in improving all facets of movement of the core essential in core training. The torso and core in general flexes (forward leaning), extends (backward arching) and rotates. There is also a stability component to it (anti-rotation). All of those movements should occur and are innate, but if we fail to train one of those different movements, then we are making a mistake in not training from a balanced perspective. Try to challenge the core in different positions — on your back, on your stomach, kneeling, standing or split stand. 

Do incorporate core work into every exercise routine. Core work can be done at the beginning of the workout, something trainers refer to as “prehab.” Prehab is an effort to “turn on” core muscles before we start to work out. This includes upright core-based movements to activate core. Core training can be incorporated into circuit training — lower body movement, upper body movement and core exercise. 

Don’t focus too much on having a six-pack. You can have a strong core without having a six-pack. There’s more to a six-pack than the actual training. You can be balanced in your training approach, but still carrying excess weight. Having a six-pack is not relative to how much you’re training your abs, but how many calories you’re taking in and how many you’re burning. Being able to see a six-pack is about what you eat and how you manage your diet.

Do make nutrition a priority. Focus on foods that are most real and nutritious, such as lean meats, fruits and vegetables. Choose brown versus white grains. Understand portions and know what kind of serving size you should have in regard to protein sources and carbohydrates. As a general rule of thumb, one portion of protein should equal the size of the palm of your hand. A portion of carbs should equal half a cup or less. Protein intake certainly helps with building of muscle, repair and recovery, but in eating a balanced diet and trying to get a sampling of all the food groups, you are able to cover your bases and get the recommended intake of the various essential nutrients.  

Don’t be afraid to modify core exercises to your fitness level. Any exercise can be modified to meet your fitness level and physical limitations. For example, a plank can be modified by using your knees instead of feet. When doing a situp, keep your arms tucked in close rather than extended over your head to reduce the force of gravity. You can adjust the load of an exercise by using just body weight instead of adding weights. You may also reduce the number of reps or duration of the exercise depending on your fitness level.  

Most importantly, be purposeful in core training and be intentional about incorporating a variety of training styles. Continuously change up what you are doing.

Cooper Fitness Center offers a variety of exercises classes that will help you strengthen your core, including Pilates mat classes, free motion class and complementary core training classes offered to all members. Please contact  or call 972.232.4832 for more details.

Article provided by Cooper Aerobics Marketing and Communications.