As a yoga instructor and fitness fanatic, I know that a strong core is essential for both your exercise routine and daily life. However, most of my students don’t want to spend an entire yoga class working on abs, and I don’t blame them. The good news is you only need a few poses for a phenomenal abdominal workout. Below are my three go-to yoga positions to develop a strong core.
On mornings when I don’t have time for sun salutations, I still squeeze in a minute of planking after a quick stretch. That’s because this popular pose works all four muscle groups in your core, making it my go-to move. These muscles include the rectus abdominis (your “six pack” muscles), transverse abdominals (your deep core muscles), and the external and internal obliques (the outermost muscles on each side of your core). In other words, adding this single pose to your exercise routine can seriously elevate your ab game.
You’re likely already familiar with this exercise, but implementing a few tweaks to it can make it more effective. First and foremost, make sure your hips aren’t sagging and your booty isn’t sticking out. Your body should be a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. To prevent a strained neck, don’t look up. Instead, gaze at a spot on the floor about a foot in front of you, keeping your neck neutral. Lastly, if you feel tension in your lower back, you’re probably not properly engaging your core. To fire up your abs, imagine pulling your belly button to your spine.
When I have time to warm up my spine with some cat-cow stretching, I like to incorporate cobra pose into my practice. On the surface, cobra may look like any other stretch. However, it’s a great way to strengthen your core and spine when done correctly. If you’re anything like me, you spend too much time looking down at your phone or laptop. Over time, this can take a toll on your posture and cause back pain. Cobra pose helps counter the effects of poor posture by encouraging proper spinal alignment and relieving pressure from your lower back. This enables you to keep your spine erect throughout the day, relieving back pain and engaging your core even when you’re off the mat.
To practice cobra pose, start lying down on your stomach with your hands under your shoulders and your fingers spread wide. Your elbows should point straight back and remain close to your body. Press your pubic bone and tops of your feet into your mat, engaging your thighs and rotating them inward. On your next inhale, lift your chest off the floor, keeping your shoulders down and opening your chest. Look forward and pull your belly button to your spine to feel engagement through your core.
3. Boat Pose with a Twist
If I’m feeling a high-energy core workout, I like adding movement to traditionally still poses. My favorite sweat-inducing variation is boat pose with an oblique twist. While this move strengthens your entire core, it forces you to focus on your obliques. This helps improve your balance and protects your spine when twisting your torso doing everyday activities, like reaching across your body for a cup of coffee.
To try this pose, sit on your mat with your legs extended out in front of you. Lean back slightly, keep your back straight, and lift your legs off the floor. From there, you can either keep your knees bent with your shins parallel to the floor or extend your legs to a 45-degree angle for a more intense core burn. Keeping your chest lifted and your core engaged, bring your hands into a praying position. From here, twist side to side, gently tapping alternating elbows on the mat.