5 Common Core Exercise Mistakes and Fixes

5 Common Core Exercise Mistakes and Fixes

We’ve come along way over the last decade when it comes to training the core.  Not too long ago, training the core consisted of mainly exercises like sit ups, with no specific attention to how the core functions.

One of the key areas of core training that I focus on to enhance movement quality and performance is stabilizing the core while the arms and legs move.  Essentially proximal stability, with underlying distal mobility of the extremities.

However, don’t forget that the body is amazing at compensating to get the job done.

Any lack of mobility or motor control will often result in compensatory movements.  Many people want to fly through their core program, but often times don’t focus on the quality of the movement.

Here are 5 common core exercise mistakes that I see, along with some suggestions on how to fix them.  I posted these as a series on Instagram, if you want to see more posts like this, be sure to follow me there.

 

Front Plank

A common error I see when people perform a front plank is over relying on the hip flexors to hold the position. You sometimes see them tighten their core but also come up into a bit of hip flexion.

If you hold planks for too long, you may also notice that you slowly creep up into this position as your core fatigues and your hip flexors take over.

There are two easy ways to improve this:

1. Focus on tightening your core AND your glutes.  This should help hold the neutral pelvic position.
2. Perform sets of planks with each rep being ~8-10 seconds, with no break, just a quick reset, instead of sustained holds.⠀This will keep the focus on the core before the hip flexors take over.

 

 

Side Plank

Similar to the front plank, the side plank is easy to use larger muscle groups to compensate.  One easy way to ruin a good side plank is simply to lift the body too high off the table. You’ll see too much side bend and will make this a lateral bend motion instead of a core stability exercise.

To fix this, try performing with a mirror so you can see your form. Your body should be in a straight line with a nice neutral spine.

 

 

Dead Bug

One of the common faults we see with the dead bug core exercises is a loss of neutral spine when the arms or the legs are full extended. ⠀The person tends to focus on getting there hands and feet extended, rather than keeping their core stable.

Remember the goal of the exercise is to brace and stabilize the core while moving the extremities.

Be sure to keep that brace, but also realize that it’s often better to reduce your arm and leg motion a bit if you are struggling and arching your back.⠀I’d rather you make the exercise less challenging, but performed well, then slowly progress over time.

 

 

Bird Dog

I’m a big fan of the bird dog exercise for two main reasons:

1) It’s great exercise to work on driving hip extension with proper core stability. A lot of people hyperextend their back instead of extending their hip.
2) Because you use alternate arm and leg for advanced variations, it also provides some rotational stability through the core.

But people LOVE to perform this exercise poorly by compensating and arching their back.  Many people struggle to extend their hip while keeping their spine stable.  Be sure to keep your core stable and just work on reaching with arms and legs.⠀Similar to the dead bug, I’d rather you reduce the quantity of your motion, and focus on the quality of the motion.

 

 

Glute Bridge

A common flaw with the glute bridge exercise (and hip thrusts) is thinking that you need to go as far as possible, as far as your body will go.

But keep in mind, the goal here is the glutes, not the low back. So the exercise should really be performed to extend you hips and NOT your back.

To help with this, really tighten your anterior core during the exercise and focus on squeezing your glutes. Then, simply stop the motion when the glutes are done squeezing. Many people want to keep going.  They tighten their glutes, but then keep pushing the body higher over the ground.  Resist the urge to continue by hyperextending at your back.

 

 

Want to Learn More About How I Train the Core?

Check out Eric Cressey and I’s Functional Stability Training of the Core program.  We discuss the core in detail and how we rehabilitate and train the core.

 

 

 

 

7 replies
  1. Michael Toso
    Michael Toso says:

    Why don’t I see the body mechanics (joint articulations) mentioned by trainers & physical therapists? This would simplify understanding which muscles are being used or ignored!

    Reply
  2. Jessan Hager
    Jessan Hager says:

    I love the topic. The detail-oriented look at core based work is essential due to the fact that we do not have a volitional relationship with this group of muscles. That means form is nearly the only feedback mechanism we have.

    That said, the comments on front plank seem a bit off target. The most important issue with this task is to be able to work in a shortened core position against gravity. Even if the hip flexors are shortened a bit from the position, it does not mean they are being relied on more. In fact it’s likely to be the opposite. When a muscle is working near its max length, then it becomes less powerful and works in a less efficient manner. In other words you are straining the hip flexors more and training the core less in the hip neutral position. Think about the relationship of a flexed knee in relationship to glute/hamstring ratio’s. I would key more on the reversal of lumbar lordosis (only to “neutral”) with a tiny-crunch maneuver (aka PPT) that shortens the core, rather than thinking the hip flexors are cheating them out of good work.

    Reply
  3. Mike Reinold
    Mike Reinold says:

    Hi Jessan, I agree, I don’t think I did a great job getting the point across. In my experience has people fatigue, the core tends to do less and hip flexors do more. Sorry if I didn’t say that well!

    Reply
  4. Jessan Hager
    Jessan Hager says:

    The hip flexors will always do more…unless you check for the lumbar end range “dump”. If the lumbar segments are maintained in something just corrective of resting curvature, then the challenge is met. This matters for all levels.

    Simplification of exercise for the masses is a mondo job and you have to really pick your battles. I commend you for being so brave. But for me, core = lumbar competency. Not hip position.

    Reply

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