Stop Doing Ineffective Sit-Ups! Use These 7 Yoga Poses to Strengthen and Tone All Parts of Your Core

Cathy Madeo
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Wondering why doing the same type of core work on your back isn’t getting you the results you want?
 
When you focus core work in only one position you don’t challenge the core muscles to their full effect. You also miss out on strengthening other important parts of the core. For instance, if you’re only doing core work on your back, then you’re missing a whole set of back core muscles that could be strengthened with exercises on your belly.
 
To work and engage all of your core muscles to their full effect, you need to change your body position when strengthening your core. This is why yoga for core strength can be such an effective practice – because we tend to switch things up in yoga rather than repeating one movement over and over.
 
Also, core muscles get stronger when we employ other neighboring muscles. That’s one of the reasons doing core work while weight-bearing on your hands and forearms will likely get you a stronger core than doing crunches on your back – yet another reason yoga for core strength is so effective.
 
 

What Is the Core? A Brief Anatomy Lesson

The core’s function is to stabilize the pelvis and spine and to move your arms and legs with force. The core is essentially your torso, but also includes some of the muscles that attach your torso to your limbs.
 
Primarily, the core consists of eight main muscle groups:
 

1. Pelvic Floor Muscles

These diamond-shaped muscles, tendons, and tissue are at the base of your torso. Their function is to keep your organs inside.
 

2. Rectus Abdominis

These are your most superficial muscles in the front of your torso (AKA your six-pack abs). Their function is to compress your organs. We use these muscles when we forward bend.
 

3. External and Internal Obliques

The external obliques are a large group of muscles that run diagonally down your side body. The internal obliques are smaller and run in the opposite direction. They work together to twist and side bend your torso.
 

4. Transverse Abdominis

This is your deepest core muscle. The transverse abdominis wraps around your torso like a corset and draws everything in toward the midline of your body. Its function is to compress your organs and to pressurize your torso in order to protect your spine when carrying heavy objects.
 


 

5. Erector Spinae and Multifidus

These are essentially the core muscles of your back. The erector spinae are a band of three large muscles that run up your spine and the multifidus runs through your vertebrae. Collectively, they extend your spine.
 

6. Glutes

The glutes are a group of three muscles. The gluteus maximus extends your legs behind you and laterally rotates your hip. The gluteus medius and minimus abduct your legs (draw them away from the midline of your body).
 

7. Hip Flexors

These muscles bring your legs toward your torso. One of the hip flexors (the psoas) is one of the largest muscles in your body. The hip flexors are generally weak and tight due to the excessive sitting that most of us do.
 

8. Diaphragm

Yes, this is a muscle! We can strengthen our core just by learning to breathe deeper.
 
When we practice yoga for core strength, we exhale as we compress the organs (or flex the spine). We inhale when we extend the spine.
 
Learn more about the anatomy of your core and yoga for core strength: Abdominal Anatomy + Yoga Poses to Strengthen Your Full Core
 
 

Yoga for Core Strength: 7 Yoga Poses to Work All Parts of Your Core

Next time you infuse a core workout into your yoga practice or fitness routine, try mixing it up with these seven yoga poses.
 
Practice these poses to build both strength and endurance by increasing your holds as you increase your strength. Start holding each pose for a few breaths and, eventually, work up to 30-second holds. You will likely be amazed by how effective yoga for core strength can be.
 

1. Plank/Forearm Plank Pose

Targets: Full core stabilization
 
cathymadeo_yoga_core_plank
 
Let’s try it:

  • Align your wrists underneath your shoulders and your wrist creases parallel to the front of your mat
  • Align your hips with your shoulders to make a long line with your whole body
  • Gently press your hands into the floor to draw your shoulder blades slightly apart from each other
  • Draw your belly toward your spine and absorb your lower ribs in
  • Engage your quadriceps muscles (on your thighs)
  • Kick back firmly through your heels
  • Feel all your core muscles engage as they stabilize your pelvis and spine

 
Need more alignment tips for Plank Pose? Here’s How to Properly Practice Plank Pose – Let’s Settle This Once and For All
 

2. Bridge Pose

Targets: Glutes and erector spinae
 
cathymadeo_Yoga_Core_bridge
 
Let’s try it:

  • Lay on your back
  • Separate your feet and knees hip-distance apart
  • Align your heels underneath your bent knees
  • Bring your shoulder blades toward each other
  • Engage your glutes and lift your pelvis from the floor
  • Roll one shoulder and then the other underneath you so that your middle spine is extending skyward
  • Press the back of your head down into the ground to lengthen your neck

 

 
 

3. Fire Hydrant Pose

Targets: Gluteus medius
 
cathymadeo_yoga_core_firehydrant
 
Let’s try it:

  • Start in a Standing Forward Fold
  • Stand firm into your right leg
  • Lift your left leg out to the side of your mat without leaning toward the standing leg to compensate
  • Keep the lifted leg in line with your hips
  • Feel your gluteus medius (the glute muscle on the side of your hip) engage to lift the leg outward
  • Return to a Standing Forward Fold
  • Repeat on the other side

 

4. Side Plank

Targets: External obliques
 
cathymadeo_yoga_core_sideplank
 
Let’s try it:

  • Start in Plank Pose
  • Shift your weight to balance on your right hand and the outer edge of your right foot
  • Stack your shoulder over your wrist with your wrist crease parallel to the front edge of your mat
  • Stretch your left arm up toward the sky
  • Flex your feet and press the inner edges of your feet together
  • Press the floor away from you and lift your hips to engage your gluteus medius (the muscle on the side of your bottom hip) and your external obliques (the muscles running up your side body)
  • Elongate your spine and draw your front ribs in
  • Repeat on the opposite side

 

5. Locust Pose

Targets: Erector spinae, multifidus, and glutes
 
cathymadeo_yoga_core_locust
 
Let’s try it:

  • Lay on your belly with your feet hip-width apart
  • Place your arms along your sides with your palms facing up
  • On an inhale, lift your head, chest, and legs up off the ground
  • Draw your shoulder blades toward each other
  • Elongate evenly through your spine

 

6. Boat Pose

Targets: Hip flexors and rectus abdominis
 
cathymadeo_yoga_Core_boat_2
 
Let’s try it:

  • Sit down on your mat and lean your weight forward so you’re resting on the front of your sit bones (rather than your tailbone)
  • Lift your lower spine upward
  • Lean your weight back slightly to lift your legs up off the floor
  • Point your toes
  • Reach your arms out parallel to the floor with your palms facing up
  • Engage your hip flexors by pulling your knees closer toward your chest
  • Engage your quads to straighten your legs
  • Lift your sternum skyward

 

7. Tuck Jump Handstand

Targets: Transverse abdominis
 
cathymadeo_yoga_core_tuck
 
Let’s try it:

  • From a shortened Downward Facing Dog, spread your shoulder blades apart from each other and shrug your shoulders up toward your ears
  • Bend your knees and push off the floor up into a Tuck Jump Handstand
  • Pull your thighs in toward your chest and draw your heels close to your hips
  • Balance here by actively recruiting your core

 
Working toward Handstand? Check out Learning to Handstand with YogiApproved.com Classes!
 
 

Yoga for Core Strength: The Takeaway

Notice how changing the position of your body indirectly switches up which core muscles are predominantly being used? This is one of the many benefits of yoga for core strength.
 
You might also notice that several core muscles work in tandem to stabilize your pelvis and spine, which is yet another benefit to changing up your positions when you practice! By changing positions, you’ll change the level of engagement of the muscles too so that they never get bored.
 
Spice up your yoga for core strength routine by varying your weight loads, and you’ll fire up your core muscles in new ways. Practice these seven yoga poses often and watch your core strength completely transform.
 
Need more yoga for core strength pose ideas? Practice These 5 Yoga Poses To Build Serious Core Strength

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Practice These 5 Yoga Poses To Build Serious Core Strength
A strong core supports your posture and protects your back while giving your body overall stability. Practice these 5 yoga poses for core strength.
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Cathy Madeo

Cathy Madeo is an E-RYT 500-Hour, YACEP certified yoga instructor and owner of Honor Yoga Princeton in Princeton, NJ. A practicing yogi since 1995, she began her teaching career in Los Angeles in 2004. You can find her signature style of core yoga workouts at activateyourcore.com.

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