How to Know You’re Doing Core Work Correctly (and Incorrectly!)

‘Gah, I’ve been doing core work wrong my ENTIRE life’

‘I’m feeling muscles I didn’t even know were there!!’

‘I’m sweating my a$$ off moving my hands 3 inches forward and back. WTH!’

I’ve taught hundreds of students and clients over the last 15 years. And you know what? I would guesstimate about 95% of them have said one of these things after putting them through a core workout.  (A workout that does NOT involve crunches btw).

To be honest, I get a little giddy when I hear this because I know that they are about to unleash their core strength and get freakin’ STRONG!! And strong makes me SO SO excited. 💃🏻💃🏻💃🏻

So that got me thinking. Most of the people I’ve worked with could use some core-work tweaks. It’s probably fair to say that AT LEAST 75% – if not more – of the general population is doing core work completely wrong too. And it’s not their fault!

There is so much damn information out there, it’s hard to know what’s right!

Sadly, all of this wonky ab work is leaving people with unstable spines, hips that compensate and pelvic floors that don’t work.  Then we layer all kinds of crazy exercises on top of an unstable trunk. Hello herniated discs.

Our PSA: Make sure YOU are doing core work correctly.

Here are some tips:


  1. You are pushing OUT and/or bearing down. If you see a slight pooch in your belly at the end of your exhale, you’re bearing down and pushing out, and that is incorrect. If you see a conical shape in your stomach as you’re doing abdominal work, chances are high that you are pushing OUT.

  2. You feel your butt, shoulders or your arms more than your core. If you cannot isolate the core (meaning if you cannot contract the muscles separately from the butt shoulders and arms), that’s also not correct! Oftentimes the stronger butt muscles, hip flexors (in the front of your hips), quads and shoulder girdle muscles will jump in and try to ‘help’ the core do its work. Say ‘thanks but no thanks’! They are not doing you any favors by taking over the work that the core should be doing!

  3. If the ribcage or hips are moving while you’re doing core work, you’re not stabilizing enough. Brace the transverse abdominals to ensure your ribs and/or hips do not move AT ALL. Otherwise you’re achieving movement in your extremities by compensating in your ribcage and/or pelvis, and the movement is coming from your core rather than where we really want it – in the moving body part!

  4. If you are feeling pain in your back when you’re doing core work, your abdominals are tired and you need to rest. Take a break, and come back to the exercise again later when you can fully engage your core.


  1. The contraction in your core should feel like you’re pulling your entire belly in and away from putting on tight jeans, or as if you’re avoiding a sucker-punch to the belly.

  2. Contracting the pelvic floor muscles can help activate the lower core muscles. It should feel like a squeeze ‘in’ and a lift ‘up’.

  3. You’ll be able to feel tightness from the bottom of your ribcage all the way down to your pubic bone and around to your back (but not as pain!) if you’re bracing your abdominals correctly.

  4. The core muscles should be able to completely stabilize your hips and ribcage while you are moving your extremities. If your core is not ‘holding’ while you’re moving, return to the previous exercise to properly train the muscles to engage and stabilize.

  5. Should your muscles be sore? At first, yes. You should feel a light ‘burn’ in the working muscles while you’re doing the exercises, and then you may or may not be sore the next day. NOTE: You don’t have to be sore to know you’re working the muscles properly.

  6. Over time you’ll be able to contract your deep core muscles on command, and use them when you start adding bigger movements.

Ready to learn more about connecting to your deep core? We have all the info for you! Check out our Postpartum: Repair course. It takes you from pelvic floor awakening to accessing your deep core. We promise, you’ve never felt your core engage this much. 🙂



Since Devoted Mamas' founding in 2017, our mission is to help you through all the stages of motherhood - stay super strong (and calm!) during pregnancy, be the BOSS of your birth, and help you bring life back to your core + pelvic floor in postpartum.

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