“Yoga helps you naturally tone and condition your core by simply supporting the weight of our body parts,” says Beth Shaw, a fitness expert and the president and founder of YogaFit. “Some poses work out different parts of your core, but you are always working against your own weight and gravity. Going to lift weights will isolate working out one specific area. Yoga, however, is able to condition an entire region, like the core.” Step up your ab game by adding these eight yoga poses to your regular exercise routine.
Boat pose was the number one core strength pose pick for both Travis Eliot, an expert yoga instructor and creator of The Ultimate Yogi and Shaw. “Boat pose is an amazing core strengthener which activates your power center,” says Shaw. “Boat pose also helps engage your abs and other core muscles, strengthening the abdominals, hip flexors and quadriceps as well as targeting the back muscles. It can also be used to improve overall balance.”
“Plank pose elongates the body and lengthens the neck, building back strength and counteracting the wear and weakening that the back undergoes on a daily basis,” says Shaw. “A strong back is very important for developing your core. And when you strengthen your back and abs at the same time, then your spinal support and posture will improve.”
This is a variation of the high plank pose and one of Eliot's favorites for increasing core strength. Forearm plank provides all the same core-strengthening benefits of high plank, but places a slightly greater challenge on your abdominal muscles. Be sure to keep your spine aligned with the rest of your body (think straight line from your head to your toes) and focus on your core by drawing your belly button into your spine.
This pose has several variations; a more vigorous version is pictured to the left. However, Shaw recommends crocodile as a more restorative pose. “The crocodile pose is really good for relaxing the muscles around your core and reducing tiredness after a strenuous workout,” she says. "I really like it because it relaxes my body and calms my mind, literally lowering blood pressure. This pose is good for those suffering from respiratory problems as the crocodile pose corrects and relieves breathing problems. This yoga pose is also good for digestion, curing insomnia and relieving stress!” See Shaw’s step-by-step guide to crocodile pose on YogaFit.com.
“This pose puts the focus right on your core muscles,” says Shaw. “Along with working out your abdomen, it is used in toning your entire body. The nature of this pose provides both benefits to strength and balance.”
Handstand was another favorite pick for both Eliot and Shaw. “Handstands are great because when you bring both legs off the ground, you are working out your deep core abdominal muscles,” says Shaw. “Most poses don’t impact your deep core muscles, so this pose is absolutely key in building a great core.” Because handstands are difficult, Shaw recommends starting out with an L-Shaped Handstand.
Another variation in the plank pose family, Eliot also recommends adding side plank to your exercise routine if you want to build a slim, strong core. In addition to strengthening your core and improving your balance, side plank will also provide a workout for your arms, shoulders, butt and thighs.
Chatarunga is another favorite of Eliot’s and it will strengthen your arms and wrists while also engaging your abdominal muscles. It’s important to note that this is considered a fairly difficult pose, so start out slow if you’re just beginning. You will need support from your arms, back and legs to properly complete the pose. Yoga Journal explains the basics: “[From plank pose], slowly lower your torso and legs to a few inches above and parallel to the floor… Keep the space between the shoulder blades broad. Don't let the elbows splay out to the sides; hold them in by the sides of the torso and push them back toward the heels. Press the bases of the index fingers firmly to the floor. Lift the top of the sternum and your head to look forward.” Chatarunga is usually performed as a sun salutation starting with downward facing dog, then leading to high plank and finally, the chatarunga pose.