Doable core strengtheners for those of us who don’t have all day to hit the gym? Sign us up! Sage Rountree shares a simple sequence to practice.
Core strength a beautiful thing—but not for aesthetic, Instagram-worthy reasons. It’s about having the control and support to engage in whatever you like to do (run along the local trail, play tennis, build furniture) without strain or injury. It’s not about what’s on the outside, padding and all; it’s about building strength on the inside, through the belly, side waist, glutes, and back.
I know, I know. You’re wary of adding a new routine to your packed schedule. Well, there’s good news: Hold each of these poses for up to a minute, resting as needed, and you’ll wrap up the whole sequence within 12 minutes. Do it three times per week, and you might be surprised at how much core strength you can gain with only about 30 minutes of focused work each week.
Most core exercises can be divided into two camps: they work either stabilization (holding your spine and pelvis steady) or articulation (moving through the small joints along the spine). Plank is the former, challenging core muscles to hold your body stable in space. We’ll do three different plank orientations.
Start with your hands under your shoulders in a standard downward-facing Plank Pose. Make sure to keep your legs strong and straight and gently tuck in your tailbone to activate your lower belly.
If the pose is rough on the wrists, lower to the forearms, keeping elbows under shoulders. If it’s rough on the lower back, lower to the knees, keeping your tailbone gently tucked and lower belly activated. Either position will be a challenge as you stabilize your core. Stay for 5–15 breaths, up to 1 minute.
Side Plank Pose
Shift your weight into your right hand for the sideways version. Then rotate your legs to ground your outer right foot into the mat, stacking your left leg and hip over their right counterparts. Lift your left arm to the sky.
Stay on your right palm with your shoulders stacked or drop to your forearm. To sweeten the pose while maintaining the challenge, you can bend your knees, stack your shins and bring them to the floor so they are parallel to the mat’s short edges. Stay for 5–15 breaths, then bring your left hand down to regular plank. Repeat on the other side.
Upward Plank Pose
Finally, turn your Plank sunny-side up. Take your hands under your shoulders and lift your hips, pressing your feet into the floor. Your fingers can face forward, wide, or backward; experiment to find what feels most comfortable. To lighten the load, bend your knees and step your feet under them. Stay for 5–15 breaths.
Bird Dog Crunches
The first of our articulation exercises, these crunches help balance core strength front to back.
From all fours, inhale and extend one arm forward and the opposite leg straight back, finding a stable balance for a few breaths. Then, use your exhalation to bring your elbow and knee toward each other as your back rounds. Use your inhalation to extend again. Do 5–15 rounds before switching to the opposite arm and leg.
Half Bow-Half Locust Pose
Lie on your belly and reach one hand back for the same-side foot, holding either the outer foot or, as pictured, the inside of the foot (this externally rotates your shoulder and yields a nice chest stretch). Inhale to kick your foot into your hand and lift into Half Bow Pose. Lift the opposite arm and leg in Half Locust Pose. Stay for 5–10 breaths, then switch sides.
Y and W Locust Jumping Jacks
From your belly, lift both arms and legs into Locust Pose. Inhale as you bring your arms together and spread your legs wide in an inverted Y position. Exhale as you squeeze your elbows down to your ribs, bringing your arms into a W position, as you squeeze your legs together. Alternate between the two positions for 5–15 breaths.
Now we put stabilization and articulation together.
Lift to Boat Pose, but keep your knees bent and shins parallel to the floor. Inhale at center, then exhale to twist to one side. Keep your knees and feet in line. Inhale to center, then exhale to twist to the other side. (If this is too much, rest your feet on the floor and twist.) Alternate until you do 5–15 rounds on each side.
Return to Boat Pose, then shift your weight to one side, balancing on your glutes. You can stay in this position or for a bigger challenge, inhale and lower to Half Listing Boat. Then exhale and pull back up to center. Continue on one side for 5–10 breaths before repeating on the other side.
In Bridge Pose, cross one ankle over the other thigh while holding your hips high. Inhale and lower your hips to hover just off the mat, then exhale and use your glutes and hamstrings to lift back to starting height. Repeat for 5–15 breaths on one side, then switch to the other side. You’ll get a bonus outer hip and inner thigh stretch as you go!
Like These Core Strengtheners?
Then you won’t want to miss Sage’s workshop, Core Strength for Real People, at Yoga Journal LIVE! New York, April 8-11. Sign up now.
Sage Rountree is an internationally recognized authority in yoga for athletes and author of six books, including The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and Everyday Yoga. Co-owner of the Carolina Yoga Company, she directs its 200- and 500-hour teacher trainings and offers professional development courses for teachers at sageyogateachertraining.com. Learn more at sagerountree.com.