Yoga’s one of the best things you can do to improve strength, tone your body and boost your health. So it's no surprise that it focuses so heavily on core. Developing core strength can correct posture, relieve back and neck pain caused by weak muscles, and promote a healthier and happier spine overall.
We’ve boiled down our favorite core strengthening exercises into a quick and simple routine you can do in about 10 minutes a day! Hold each pose for 30 seconds then move to the next and repeat the sequence as many times as you can in 10 minutes.
There’s no doubt you’re familiar with the plank pose. It’s not only common in yoga but also popular in many fitness programs - and for good reason. While it looks simple, it's anything but. The plank strengthens all major core muscle groups (1) which can lead to an ability to lift heavier, move faster and decrease your risk of back injury.
How to do a Plank:
- Begin by lying face down on your mat with your elbows pointed up and hands just below your shoulders (just like you're about to do a push-up).
- Draw your belly in, push through your palms and feet and raise yourself into a full plank position. Keep your core and glutes tight and avoid shrugging your shoulders.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds and move to the next exercise.
- If the full plank is too difficult, try resting on your forearms with your arms parallel to your body and shoulder width apart.
- Avoid letting your hips sink toward the floor by engaging your core the entire time.
- Keep your shoulders strong and resist the temptation to allow them to shrug.
- Keep your hands shoulder width apart - bringing them together puts unnecessary strain on your rotator cuffs.
Kick it up:
- Try lifting one leg until it's parallel with the floor and holding.
- Push up onto your hands (instead of resting on your elbows) and hold.
2. Side Plank
For a side plank you’re balancing on one arm rather than the “all fours” position you had in the standard plank. It’s amazing at building oblique strength and identifying weaknesses and imbalances in your muscles.
How to do a Side Plank:
- Begin by lying on your side, propped up on one arm with your elbow directly below your shoulder. Rest your forearm flat against the floor. Alternatively, you can push up onto your hand (pictured).
- Stack one foot on top of the other. When you push up, your weight will be concentrated on the outside of the foot you have against the floor.
- Now contract your abdominal muscles and lift yourself up by pushing your hips toward the sky. You want to focus on contracting your glutes and obliques on the side closest to the ground.
- You can raise your opposite arm up to the sky (pictured above) or keep that arm on your hip.
- Avoid letting your hips sag toward the floor.
- Try to keep your shoulders from sinking.
- Really focus on tightening your core.
Kick it up:
Try lifting one leg off the floor and pointing your other arm toward the ceiling.
3. Chaturanga / Low Plank
The low plank pose requires many muscles to work in conjunction. While it’s primarily building core, its also strengthening your forearms and improving wrist flexibility (1). Chaturanga is a little bit harder than the standard plank so check the tips below for modifications and form points.
How to do Low Plank:
- Begin lying face down on your yoga mat. Position your hands on the mat just below your chest level with your fingers spread out similar to how you would perform a push up.
- Keeping your elbows close to your sides, push yourself up off the floor until you have a 90 degree angle in your arms.
- Focus on holding yourself perfectly stable while contracting your abs and glutes.
- Hold the pose for 30 seconds.
- Push into your heels and tighten your core to create length in the spine.
- Avoid letting your shoulders droop lower than your elbows.
- Avoid sagging and letting your hips drop to the floor.
- If you find this pose too challenging, try dropping your knees to the floor and doing the pose from there (like a modified push-up).
4. Boat Pose
Boat pose is a challenging position since it requires more work form your lower abdominals and hip flexors (1). If you find the full boat pose too challenging, you can modify by using a yoga strap around your feet to give yourself something to hold onto. When starting out, don’t worry if your legs aren't perfectly straight. Most of us work at desks which leads to tight hamstrings and hip flexors. Just leave your legs bent at first, use the strap if needed and work your way up to a full boat pose in time.
How to do Boat Pose:
- Begin in a seated position on your yoga mat with your legs extended in front of you.
- Gently lean back and bring your legs up to about 45 degrees. Try to straighten your legs as much as you can.
- You can reach your hands up towards your feet or raise them a few inches off the ground and keep them at your sides.
- Ensure your chest is out and your shoulders are back.
- Focus on contracting your abs and breathing softly for 30 seconds.
- Once you’re in the pose, pull your shoulder blades together and relax your shoulders.
- Consciously focus on contracting your abdominals and feel them working.
- Keep your chest high and pointed toward the sky.
- Use a strap if needed.
- If you find it uncomfortable for your sit bones, put a yoga mat or blanket underneath you.
5. Bird Dog
Bird dog starts down on all fours and requires you to extend one leg out behind you until it's parallel with the floor while extending the arm on your opposite side out in front. You may feel a little shaky at first since this is working your glutes and hips in addition to your core (1). Focus on elongating your spine, contracting your abs and keeping your body as balanced as you can. If you’re feeling wobbly, you’re probably leaning to one side or the other. Bring yourself back to center and you should be fine.
How to do Bird Dog:
- Begin on all fours with your hands directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips.
- Kick one leg out high behind you with your toe pointed. Next, reach your arm on the opposite side out in front of you.
- Hold the pose for about 30 seconds and switch to the opposite side.
- If your glutes and back muscles are weak, you may have trouble fully straightening your leg. Bend your knee if you have to and keep working your way up to a fully extended leg.
- To kick it up, bring your raised knee and elbow in to each other and extend them back out. Repeat this 5-10 times during the 30 seconds you’re holding the pose.
6. Warrior III
Warrior III pose is great for building the stabilizer muscles throughout your body as well as lots of core strength. Warrior III requires you to stand on one leg which brings awareness to your center as well as connecting you with all the joints and connective tissues of your feet and ankles. By extending your leg behind you, you’re also strengthening your glutes and erector spinae muscles (help with posture) and elongating your back to promote spinal health (1).
How to do Warrior III:
- Begin by standing on your mat with your feet hip width apart and your weight distributed evenly between them.
- Step your right foot forward about one foot in front of your left. Now shift your weight to your right foot.
- Extend your arms straight up over your head and press your palms together.
- Raise your left leg out behind you and bend at the waist like you're a hinge until you're parallel with the floor. Your body should resemble a "T". Hold the pose for about 30 seconds focusing on contracting your abs.
- If you’re trying it for the first time, begin with a chair or table if front of you so you can grab it if needed.
- If you’re wobbly, try to add some space between your toes to widen your base.
- If you feel the majority of the strain on your hip flexors, this is because your abdominal muscles are not kicking in like they should be. Stick with it and consciously contract your abs.
7. Upward Facing Dog
Upward facing dog is not a core “building” exercise necessarily. Instead, it's a pose that works to stretch both your abdominal muscles as well as the muscles of your back. It's been included because it's a great stretch that can give your muscles a break before the next set. Additionally, upward dog pose is helpful if you deal with back pain since it opens the chest, strengthens your shoulders and improves flexibility of the back, quads and hips.
How to do Upward Facing Dog:
- Begin on all fours with your knees and hands hip and shoulder width apart.
- From here, go down to the floor as though you’re doing a push-up from your knees. Your shoulders should be back, shoulder blades together and your hands should be just below chest level.
- From the floor, lift yourself up with your arms until they’re fully straightened. At this point your hips will be off the floor but your knees should still be on the ground. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed and you’re not shrugging (common at this step in the pose).
- Next, gently raise your head until you’re looking at the ceiling and pause there for a few breaths.
- Repeat the process 5 - 6 times maintaining form and control.
- Backbends can be risky so start slow and never force the stretch.
- When in upward facing dog, draw your shoulders back and your shoulder blades in.
- Once fully in the pose, look up to the ceiling and take a few breaths.
- Avoid shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears.
By incorporating these poses into your daily routine (it only takes 10 minutes), you should almost immediately notice small aches and pains start disappearing. Further, as you develop your core muscles you'll begin sitting up straighter since your spine is more supported and the muscles in your back, core and hips are elongating. Do you have a favorite core builder? Let me know in the comments below!