Shore up the Core

Core strength supports the body in myriad ways. But, as Sage Rountree explains, it's not all about the abs. Here she explains why it's important to focus on both the front and back of the body when it comes to core work, and how to determine which you need most.
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Core strength supports the body in myriad ways. But, as Sage Rountree explains, it's not all about the abs. Here she explains why it's important to focus on both the front and back of the body when it comes to core work, and how to determine which you need most.

Core strength is critical for injury prevention in sports and asana, and it primes us to sit in meditation and enjoy yoga’s mental and spiritual benefits. But for true core strength, we need to be strong not just in the abdominal muscles or in the back but in both—and we need an appropriate balance of strength, front to back. Without strength in the muscles that support the spine, strength in the front is counterproductive. Sports, and sitting, can focus on the front to the detriment of the back.

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Here’s a self-test to assess the state of your front-to-back core strength balance. Take Navasana (Boat Pose) for as many breaths as you can hold comfortably. Then take a reverse table or Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose), comparing the number of unlabored breaths you can hold with pain-free good form (a long line from shoulders to hips, knees, and, for Purvottanasana, feet).

How do the two compare? If you can hold Navasana more than twice as long as Purvottanasana, you may need to focus on strengthening the back of the body. Notice also what your limit is in Upward Plank: is it flexibility, across the chest or hips, or is it strength in the muscles of the back body? Without flexibility in the front, any attempt to strengthen the back will be automatically handicapped.

To improve the front/back balance, include these poses in home practice several times each week.

For Flexibility in the Front

  • Supported Matsyasana (Fish Pose)
  • Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Supported Bridge Pose)
  • Chest stretches, fingers clasped behind back or holding strap behind back
  • Anjaneyasana (Low Lunge)

For Strength in the Back

  • Salabasana (Locust Pose)
  • Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
  • Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)
  • Purvottanasana (Upward Plank Pose)