If you think sit-ups and crunches are all you need to do to keep your core toned, you’re missing out. They’re only strengthening your abs.
To protect your back from injury, improve your posture, enhance your balance and strengthen your ability to do everyday tasks with ease, you need to exercise all your core muscles, including the muscles in your pelvic area and your back.
These five movements, many culled from yoga poses, tone all your core muscles.
You don’t need to do all of them each time you work out, but try incorporating all five over the course of your week. As with any exercise, if you feel pain, stop.
Boat Pose (Paripurna Navasana)
Sit on the floor with your legs extended straight in front of you, and place your hands on the floor, slightly in front of your hips, fingers pointing toward your feet. Lean back slightly while lifting your legs, keeping them as straight as possible, until your legs and back form a 45-degree angle. Now lift and extend your arms straight out in front of you—either alongside your legs and parallel to the floor, or grasping behind your knees or thighs. Hold for as long as you can, aiming for a goal of one minute as you get better at the exercise. To end, lower your legs and return to starting position.
Crow Pose (Kakasana)
Focuses on strengthening: Abdominals and spine.
Begin by squatting on the floor like a frog—your feet hip-width apart, your hands on the floor, shoulder-width apart and fingers spread, with your arms inside your legs. Your knees should be against the backs of your upper arms. Lean forward slowly, pressing your arms into your knees, until you can balance with your feet off the floor. Avoid rocking into the pose—and keep your gaze forward. Hold for up to one minute before returning to your starting position.
Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
Begin with your feet and hands on the floor, back and legs straight in an inverted “V.” Then turn, lowering the weight of your body onto your left forearm and your left foot. Stack your right foot on top of your left, and rest your right hand on your right thigh. Keep your body in a straight line by tightening your abdominals and thighs. For added challenge, extend your right arm up toward the ceiling. Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. Then slowly return to starting position and repeat on the right side.
Focuses on strengthening: Obliques and center abdominals.
Sit on the floor with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and your hands flat on the floor next to your hips. Tighten your abdominals and, keeping your back straight, lean back about 45 degrees while you lift your feet until your calves are parallel to the floor— so you’re balancing on your gluteal muscles (buttocks). Clasp your hands together and hold them in front of your stomach. Moving only your upper body, twist to each side, bringing your clasped hands as close to the floor on each side as you can. Continue alternating side to side for 15 to 30 seconds. Rest and repeat. (An easier version of this exercise is to keep your feet flat on the floor, knees bent.)
Focuses on strengthening: Lower abdominals.
Lie on your back with your arms by your sides and your legs fully extended. Lift your head and feet a few inches off the floor, slightly bending your knees. Keeping your abdominals taut, move your legs up and down in a scissor-like motion (or like a basic swimming kick) in small, fast movements without letting your feet touch the ground. Kick for 10 to 15 seconds. Rest and repeat.