5 Bad Habits Messing With Your Core

by Maggie Puniewska

Let's face it: Shaping up your core is hard. Like, very hard. You might be crunching away for hours with nothing to show for it. Turns out there's more to whittling your middle than just working out (though what you do during your sweat session is a big part of it!). To help resolve midsection woes, we chatted with Jessi Kneeland, personal trainer and founder of Remodel Fitness. Ahead, she reveals the bad habits keeping you from a toned and flat core.


We know you know that skimping on shut-eye is horrible for a number of reasons — it zaps sex drive, ups your risk for chronic disease, makes you cranky — but it also messes with your core. "When you often don't get enough high quality sleep, you're going to have chronically elevated levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Constantly running on high cortisol makes it difficult to banish a belly, because your body holds on to fat," says Kneeland. Plus, a recent study from the University of California found that sleep-deprived people not only crave more junk food, they receive a bigger zing in the brain's reward center when eating them. Get a solid eight hours, and you may end up with a slimmer middle too.


Being constantly frazzled will make belly fat more stubborn. Again, blame high levels of cortisol for forcing the body to hold on to the extra pounds. "This applies to all stressors, not just the typical ones you think of like work and relationship stress. Having a negative attitude, holding onto resentments, and having low body image are all common chronic stressors," Kneeland explains.


Call us sit-up and crunch haters, but the fact is they're not the most effective way to tone up your mid-section. Spot reducing — doing exercises that focus on one part of the body in order to slash fat — is pretty much a waste of time, says Kneeland. "Instead, swap in full body resistance exercises like lunges, deadlifts, rows, and squats in addition to interval training. These workouts will actually help increase lean muscle mass, which in turn will help you burn more fat."


Can't get rid of a bulge? Check your inhales and exhales. Over time, shallow breathing (think: your chest moves when you inhale instead of your belly) can actually change the shape of your body to include a "rib flare," which is where the bottom ribs stick out a bit, instead of laying flat says Kneeland. Rib flare (as well as some other issues that arise with shallow breathing like increased cortisol, sluggish digestion, and weak core muscles) can make your belly look less flat. Take a cue from yoga and aim to take more deeper belly breaths.


Wait, is your spin class obsession actually working against you? Depends on how often you go. "Excess cardio teaches your body to hold onto fat for fuel and it breaks down muscle mass that would normally. Plus all that cardio is a stressor on your body, so increased cortisol is in play as well," Kneeland says. Stick to the recommended 150 minutes a week for optimal fat blasting.

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