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.
Rather than doing long holds, add mobility. Stuart McGill, a top authority and researcher of low back pain and function, recommends holding a plank for 10 seconds, relaxing the muscles for 1 to 2 seconds, and repeating.
“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.
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.