As the weather warms and spring break approaches, we're all forced to do that same rather scary thing: unearth the bathing suit and take a good, hard look in the mirror. I did it just last week and was relieved to see that my job as fitness editor at Prevention had kept my abs from going too far south. Still, given all the hours I clock at the gym, I wouldn't mind seeing a little more definition. That's when I realized I needed to fine-tune my game. If you've been putting in the effort and still don't have the abs you're after, take heart, you're not alone. Here are 10 slipups that mess with your six pack, plus expert fixes to get you back on track.
Your Form Is Sloppy
"The wrong form can turn an effective move into one that won't do anything for you," says personal trainer Jessica Smith Gomez, co-star of the 10 Minute Solution: Best Belly Blasters. A few of the most common mistakes: Pulling on your neck (which allows your abs to slack off), using momentum rather than muscle strength (again, a freebie pass for the abs), sagging your hips in plank, and not keeping them pulled in during every move. "You must control your abdominal wall to get any real benefit," says Erin O'Brien, creator of Kristi Yamaguchi: Power Workout and Strong Body Ageless Body. Not sure how you're doing? Check your form in a mirror.
You're Doing the Wrong Moves
"The worst exercise for a flat tummy is a sit-up, especially when done incorrectly," says Samantha Clayton, personal trainer and co-star of You Tube's BeFitin90 channel. "If you strain your neck, most of the work ends up being in the hip flexors rather than the abs." The moves experts love: Pilates-based exercises, which work the deepest layers of the abdominals, plank poses, bicycle crunches, and functional movements that work the entire body (think kettlebells). A few tools that can boost the belly-flattening power of traditional moves like crunches: Bosu and stability balls. These tools challenge your balance, which forces your core to work harder throughout each move.
You're Breathing Incorrectly, or Not at All
"Breathing should be a primary focus during ab work," says Fred DeVito, co-creator of the Exhale: Core Fusion DVD series. Why? Your stomach sits behind the abdominal wall. Improper breathing pushes the stomach out, forcing the abdominal wall to protrude, the exact opposite of what you want during ab work. The correct way to breathe during a crunch is as follows: Inhale to prepare; begin to exhale as you pull your bellybutton toward your spine and start to curl up, keeping your abs pulled in throughout the move. "The challenge is to exhale as you pull the abs in," says DeVito. "You'll notice a difference immediately."