3 Best Yoga Poses to Work Your Core
If you want to stay active for the rest of your life, you’ll need a strong core. A strong core helps you prevent injury and falls, maintain good posture, and move freely and easily. It also allows you to perform the physical activities you enjoy as well as daily tasks, such as doing laundry and walking about your neighborhood.
Best Core Strengthening Poses
In the good old days, sit-ups and crunches were the “go-to” moves to keep your core muscles in good shape. But experts tell us those exercises are not as effective as we once believed. Why? For one, traditional exercises strengthen only a few of the muscles that comprise the core. Secondly, sit-ups and crunches can be very hard on the spine and potentially damaging.
Sit-ups and crunches are also dangerous because they pull on your neck. The result is instead of training the core, they train the hip flexor muscles. If the hip flexor muscles get too strong, they pull on the lower back and contribute to back pain. Additionally, repetitive curving of the spine place compressive forces on the spine which can result in damage to the discs of the lower back.
A better alternative is to do movements that work several core muscle groups at the same time, in the same way you would if you were lifting something or climbing. For older adults, the following three yoga poses give the most bang for your buck:
Planks target your entire core, making them an excellent choice. They also strengthen the arm, shoulder and upper back muscles. But planks can be challenging, so start by holding the pose only for as long as you’re able and build up from there.
Start on hands and knees. Place your hands slightly in front of your shoulders, palms pressing into the floor. Keep your spine long as you engage your low belly, glutes and quads muscles to lift your knees and straighten your legs. Continue to press into your hands and firm your belly muscles so your lower back and shoulder blades don’t sag downward. Hold for 10-20 seconds before releasing knees back to the floor.
Need more support? If getting on the floor isn’t an option, you can do a vertical plank at the wall. Stand 1-3 feet away form a wall or the back of a door. Lean forward and place both hands on the wall at about chest level. Keep your heels on the floor and your back lengthened. Tighten your abs and hold for 5 seconds before pushing away from the wall. Repeat 3-5 times, increasing the amount of time you hold the pose as you become stronger.
Take it up a notch: Start lying on your stomach with your palms pressed into the floor by your chest. Keep your back straight and squeeze your glutes, quads, and abdominal muscles to push yourself up and off the floor, straightening your elbows. For added challenge, stay for 30 seconds to a minute.
Bridge strengthens the glutes, thighs and legs. It engages the entire core, including the muscles from the rib cage to the pelvis and into the low back like a corset.
Begin lying on your back with your knees bent and your arms by your sides. Place a yoga block between the knees. Feet should be hip-distance apart. Press into the feet, pressing the knees forward and lifting the pelvis up towards the ceiling on an exhale. Inhale to hold the pose. On the next exhale, actively engage your abs and glutes to slowly lower your pelvis to the floor. Repeat 3-6 times.
Need more support? While bridge can be done lying on a bed, if you have sensitive or arthritic knees, try substituting these seated leg raises. Sit all the way back on a sturdy chair with arms resting on the armrests or holding the sides of the chair. Lean back into the chair as you tighten your abs, lifting both legs a few inches off the ground. Knees remain bent as you lift them. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds before lowering both feet back to the ground.
Take it up a notch: Extend one leg, keeping the knees parallel. Press into the foot on the floor to lift the whole pelvis and slowly lower. Try to keep the pelvis level as you lift and lower.
Bird Dog (aka Balancing Cat)
As you stretch out your opposite arm and leg, you have to contract your abdominal muscles as well as the muscles of the arm and leg. Remember to keep your movements slow and controlled and support the movements with your breath.
From a tabletop position, lift your right leg behind you. Flex your foot towards the ground, keeping our leg in line with your hip and spine. Next, gently firm your low belly as you reach your left arm forward, palm facing inward. Stay here for 3-5 full breaths. Release your hand and knee to the floor and repeat with the leg leg.
Need more support? If you have sensitive knees or can’t get on the floor, try sitting in a chair. Raise your arm overhead as you extend the opposite leg forward.
Take it up a notch: From birddog, contract the low belly to draw the extended arm and leg towards each other underneath you. Move slowly to maintain good balance as you repeat this movement 3-6 times.
Building core strength takes time and dedication. Aim to practice these poses several times weekly. For more poses that build core strength and stability, read my blog, “Standing Balance Poses for a Strong Core.” Be well!