A very common misconception about training your core (or any other muscle for that matter) is that you must consciously tense it. This is unfortunately completely wrong! Doing this will prevent you from feeling the muscle properly and can in fact lead to strain and injury! It will also tend to prevent you from breathing properly and promote holding of your breath.
The key is to maintain PROPER BODY STRUCTURE AND BREATHING. By keeping your back flat, your body properly aligned, and breathing properly and deeply through the stomach, everything will be set up for you to benefit from your exercises. The muscles will naturally tense when you use them, but it is NOT something you need to consciously do. By holding your structure correctly, breathing properly, AND maintaining proper concentration and focus, you will be able to exercise properly with optimum benefits.
If you think about it, by not intentionally tensing your muscles, they will naturally produce the correct amount of tension. If you pick up a cup of water, there is tension even if you don't feel it. If you pick up a 100 lb dumbbell, there is also tension. Only much more! However your intent should be the same. That is to lift a weight with proper body structure, alignment, and breathing. It's really as simple as that!
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