Building a strong core is essential not only for feeling better during your workouts, but also for making everyday life easier. A well-developed set of core muscles will help to support your entire body as you go about your day, and while a taut stomach is a highly sought after aesthetic as well, it is also a functional goal to work towards in order to improve your quality of life and feel better in daily activities as simple as taking a walk or even standing for extended periods of time.
Crunches, sit ups, and other monotonous exercises may come to mind initially when considering how to go about building your core strength, but practicing a full body workout such as yoga is another great way to build up your abdominals without getting stuck in a rut of bicycle crunches. Core strength is vital for success in a yoga workout, so we checked in with yoga instructors Mandi Briggs and Kino MacGregor to lay out the best moves you could include in your exercise routine to build up your abdominal muscles for a stronger and more balanced body.
It’s a common misconception that your core is simply your ab muscles, but Briggs explains that your core rather refers to the entirety of your trunk from shoulders to hips. Because of the large expanse of the body this covers, it’s important to strengthen your core in order to feel strong while exercising and completing everyday tasks.
Yoga is fantastic for this as it works the entirety of your body, forcing muscles to activate that otherwise would not be engaged in your exercises. Below, we gathered the top four core workouts to add onto your regular exercise routine or yoga practice in order to get a better quality workout and experience visible strength gain in your body.
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Table Top Pose
Otherwise known as Bharamanasana, the table top pose helps to strengthen the core muscles using your hands and knees as a steadying base. “In this pose, a student is on their hands and knees. It’s important that the wrists are stacked directly under the shoulders and the hips right over the knees,” begins Briggs. “Keep a nice long spine, press the hands into the ground so you don’t sink between the shoulder blades, and let your gaze focus on the ground about a foot in front of the hands.” Adding a challenge to this move, Briggs suggests tucking your toes and hovering your knees about an inch off the ground to activate the entire core. With your knees above the mat, hold the pose for as long as your body allows, like a variation of a bear crawl or the traditional plank.
Side plank, or Vasisthasana, is another iteration of the traditional plank pose which instead focuses on strengthening your oblique muscles which run down the side of your abs. In this pose, Briggs notes that it’s essential to press the side of your arm into the ground and elongate the body so as not to sink into your shoulder. This will create an L shape with your arms.
“Maintain a nice long spine, and if possible, turn the gaze toward the top hand. While this pose really helps to work the arm and shoulders, it’s also great for the entire core,” Briggs notes. If you aren’t quite feeling the burn and are looking for an advancement to this move, try lifting your top leg to create almost an X shape with your body. This will require your core to fire even more. Hold for 30-60 seconds before switching to the other side.
Boat pose, or Navasana, is a challenging yoga pose which engages the core as you balance on your sit bones. “The key here is to focus on good form and keep the front body engaged. If the back muscles take over, you may feel a strain instead of that nice burn of the abdominal muscles that indicates a solid activation of the core,” explains MacGregor. Sitting back onto the top of your glutes, lift your feet up so they’re hovering perpendicular to the ground. Then extend your arms out in front of you, holding your balance and flexing your core in order to keep your body from falling. This pose calls for your hip flexors and abdominal muscles to be ignited, as you work on both balance and strength.
Finally, much like boat pose, the L sit is another exercise which strengthens your core while also challenging your arm muscles and balance as well. “The L-sit is a great way to work the movement mechanics of the lift up. The dynamics of this pose are relatively easy to find, so with just a little technique most people can feel the butt lift a bit off the ground,” says MacGregor. This pose requires both core and arm strength, so practice sitting with your legs out and lifting up the weight of your body for smaller increments of time. As you practice, you should be able to hold for longer as your core and upper body strength increases, making this an easy pose to track your growth with.
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