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Are You Overtraining Your Core?

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Are You Overtraining Your Core?

Sit-ups. Planks. Superman. Core exercises are a common component of many fitness routines. Yet, 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 what you can do prevent it. 

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 that their body is able to recover from,” says Gutch. 

In other words, overtraining happens when either the weight is too heavy or you’re performing too many repetitions without adequate rest periods. When this happens, the body will start breaking 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,’ not realizing the core involves the abdominals, spine stabilizers, glutes and hip flexors,” says Gutch. 

Many people focus too much on abs in an attempt to lose belly fat, which Parker says hasn’t proven to be beneficial.

“Unfortunately, we can’t control where fat is lost (spot reduction), which means working certain muscles won’t necessarily lead to loss of fat in areas around those muscles,” says Parker. 

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, Parker says 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?  Parker says 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:

  • Working the core 2-3 days per week
  • Having at least one full day of recovery in-between
  • Performing 2-3 exercises, 2-3 sets each 
  • Aiming for 8-10 repetitions with no more than 15-20  
  • Trying not to repeat any exercise in a given week

Aside from weight-bearing exercises, Parker suggests incorporating these tips into your routine to help improve your core:

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

If you’re still unsure how to create a proper core routine, seek the hands-on instruction from a certified professional fitness trainer at Cooper Fitness Center. For more information on personal training or to schedule a session with a trainer, visit