How to Train Your Core Properly and Why

Stop crunching until you puke to try to get that six-pack!

Jamie Staley, NASM-CPT, Pn1

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I have found that most people either love core training or they hate it. Or they love to hate it.

The “love it” camp usually loves it because they equate feeling a burn in their abdomen with building six-pack abs and a flat stomach. They feel they “should” be doing it to reduce belly fat. (Sorry to break it to you, but this is not true and we can’t decide where we lose body fat and a calorie deficit is the only way to lose body fat.)

The “hate it” camp usually hates it because they think core training involves endless sit-up, crunches, and excruciating low back pain.

Now, you can love it, hate it, or feel indifferent about it for any number of reasons, but these two responses are extremely common.

Don’t miss this though: a strong core is the foundation of a strong and able body. Weakness in the core can lead to a whole host of issues, which will make a little belly fat feel like the least of your concerns. Training your core the wrong way can also lead to the same thing.

So what are we to do? Let’s dive in.

What is my core?

Core: the structures that make up the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex; including the lumbar spine, the pelvic girdle, abdomen, and the hip joint.

National Academy of Sports Medicine

Within these areas, there are three different categories of muscles in your core: local stabilization system (attach directly to the vertebrae), global stabilization system (attach from pelvis to spine), and movement system (attach spine and/or pelvis to the extremities.

This is over 20 different muscles!

Don’t sell yourself short by thinking core training should only focus on the “six-pack abs” (aka: your rectus abdominis). It’s so much more!

Why do I need to train my core?

So if core training isn’t giving us all six-packs, why bother?

A strong core is vital to every movement you do. We don’t often think about the tiny muscles in between each one of our vertebrae, but they are very important to the overall health of our spine and the quality of our movements.

If you want to prevent injury, improve your balance, get stronger, or decrease low-back pain, core training is a must.

Targeted core training vs. bracing in compound movements.

There is a camp of trainers and others that think that “bracing” the core in larger, compound lifts (think squats, deadlifts, overhead pressing, etc.) is sufficient core training and that core-specific exercises are not needed.

While bracing properly in every exercise is important (and quite a bit of work on the core), targeted core training has too many benefits to ignore and should be added into your routine.

To brace your core properly for other exercises, take a big inhale and then exhale. While you exhale, imagine filling your stomach with pressurized air and holding that “tank” full of that pressurized air for your lift.

Proper bracing is not holding your breath, sucking in your stomach, or pulling your navel into your spine.

Types of core training.

There are many different ways to train the core and there are many variables (plane of motion, range of motion, type of resistance, body position, speed of motion, and duration).

Another way to break core training down into two categories is either trying to move the spine (flexion, extension, rotation) or trying not to move spine (isometric holds, anti-rotation, anti-lateral flexion, anti-extension).

The best place to start for a beginner (or someone with back issues or pain) is the later category of performing movements with the goal of keeping the spine still. This type of core training is tolerated by just about everyone and leads to less stress on the spine.

These include:

  • Plank variations
  • Stability ball rollout or ab wheel rollout
  • Pallof press variations
  • Deadbugs
  • Hanging leg raises/knee raises
  • Heavy carry variations
Does your workout routine need attention? Let me help!

If tackling a new exercise regime on your own feels too intimidating and confusing, I can help! I am a Certified Personal Trainer through the National Academy of Sports Medicine and have experience with a wide array of clients.

I will coach you through an individualized plan to meet your goals and help you gain strength and confidence, while cutting through the confusion. I’ll give you the accountability, real information, motivation, and guidance to make lasting change.

In-person or online coaching available! Send me an email at and let’s chat about your goals!

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