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Why you should warm up your abs

Engage your entire core before you begin your next workout.

It’s not unusual to jump right into a core-strengthening routine. But top experts argue that there’s a right and a wrong way to work through a workout that targets the mid-section. Easing in, in fact, is a smarter, safer, more effective way to train. Consider these guidelines before your next core session.

Think stability then instability. Start your workout off with a core stabilizer, like a plank hold. “When you hold something like a plank, you get a really strong neural signal from the central nervous system to the core. Once everything is lit up, from there you’re just sort of pouring gas on the fire,” says NYC-based group fitness instructor Gregg Cook.

Then move onto something more dynamic. Rather than doing long holds, add mobility. "Being able to hold a traditional plank for 10 minutes isn't very functional for anything except just that," says Josh Stolz, High Performance Manager at WeWork. "Even Stuart McGill [a top authority and researcher of low back pain and function] recommends holding a plank for 10 seconds, tops, followed by a brief, 1-to-2 seconds-long relaxation of the muscles. This can be repeated a certain number of times, but the point here is that standard planking for a long period of time is not functional because muscles and fascia need to turn on and turn off.”

Work from big to small. “First heat up the larger muscles of your core—the abdominals, shoulders, back, and supporting pelvic muscles—to warm up the body and prepare for the more acute toning of your biceps, triceps, and the four distinct layers of your abdominals,” says Christina Ilisije, Figure 4 Barre instructor at Pure New York City.

Practice without props. If you’re planning to use a stability ball or other balance-building tools in your workout, you should do a few reps of each move while totally stable first, to make sure you can execute them using proper form. Adding instability takes time and shouldn’t happen immediately. “Using it before you have become at least competent in the basic movement first on the ground in a stable environment can further impede the learning of new movement skills,” says Alex Zimmerman, director of Equinox’s Tier X program. Your body, he notes, will simply be too busy fighting to stay upright to improve.