• Jennifer Penney

The Top 3 Mistakes You Might Be Making With Your Abdominal Workouts



Are you making one of these critical mistakes?

Why is it so hard to get the flat abs that you desire? This particular area seems to really plague women (moms especially, although I think we're just extra self conscious about it.) Even though you know how to create the body definition that you want in other areas of your body, you're still left with a little lower belly that just won't disappear? And despite doing plenty of crunches and planks, you rarely feel your abdominal muscles working (they're never sore the next day?) In fact, all your best efforts at ab work often leaves you with nothing but a sore lower back.


Maybe this is just how it is after you've had kids?


What?! NO WAY! You do not have to accept this as the status quo AND I am absolutely not a proponent of elective surgery for this. You are likely making one of these mistakes that I see all the time with the women that I work with...


Mistake #1 - You are only loading your abdominals in the sagittal plane.


Wait... what? The sagittal plane?

The sagittal plane divides the body into left and right sides. Imagine a vertical plate of glass that is splitting your body in half (top to bottom.) Another way to think about it is to picture someone walking forward - that forward motion is happening in the sagittal plane.


What does this have to do with your abs?

When you work in the sagittal plane you are primarily using your rectus, 6-pack, muscle (a lot!)


So those crunches, you know the thousand or so that you do so that you finally feel your abs burn? Those are in the sagittal plane and are helping to build up your 6-pack muscles.


What about that weighted pulley crunch down? Also, sagittal plane.

Hanging leg raises? You guessed it, sagittal plane.

Dead bug, pilates 1000s? Yup, sagittal plane.

Even that super functional plank that you like to hold forever, yes, that too is happening in the sagittal plane.


There is nothing wrong with any of these exercises BUT you are missing out on really working the other parts of your abdominals!


AND many of these exercises, especially if they're performed incorrectly can put pressure down onto your pelvic floor muscles as well as cause lower back soreness. Hint hint... the lower back soreness is happening because your back is actually working harder than your abs!

This brings me to the next mistake...



Mistake #2 - You aren't performing the exercise correctly.

  • HOW you perform an exercise is infinitely more important than how many reps you perform.

The vast majority of the moms I help and see on a regular basis in fitness classes are over-using their back muscles to perform even basic abdominal exercises.

Why? Probably due to a lack of alignment within their core often caused by postural changes that take place during pregnancy.


The majority of moms I work with have done absolutely no postpartum rehab work for their core. Yes you need to do this, whether your kids are currently babies, toddlers or even off to college.


It is never too late and will make a world of difference for not just your abs but your entire core (back, pelvis and shoulders.)


  • HOW you perform an exercise is also much more important than how difficult the exercise is to do.

No one wants to take a step back and do the easy version. But that may be what you need so that you can make sure that you are actually feeling the exercise in the right place.


If you don't FEEL your abs working that is usually because they are NOT working.


LOL - I used to think that certain exercises were just "too easy" for me and that's why I didn't feel them working my abs... Ummmm "NO," Once I took the time to learn, I discovered I actually wasn't doing them right. ;-)




Mistake #3 - You aren't using your breath.


Do you hold your breath when doing certain exercises? I hope not but its really common to do so especially when you're trying a more difficult exercise.


Not only do you want to make sure you are breathing through your abdominal exercises, you want to USE your breath to help build the intensity of the exercise. This will draw pressure off of your pelvic floor muscles, bring your transverse abdominis (corset muscles!) onboard, and help coordinate your diaphragm and pelvic floor function with your abdominal muscles.


This is why you often see me using a balloon when I'm working my core!


Think you may be making one of these mistakes during your ab workouts? Try slowing down and tuning in to what your body is doing.