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5 Moves That Are Missing from Your Core Workouts

By , Jill Miller, Creator of Yoga Tune UpĀ® and CoregeousĀ®
In college I was a dancer, and Pilates was part of my daily training. Somehow I would ''get through'' the mat classes, just going through the motions, but miraculously, I was never sore. My roommate, on the other hand, would be doubled over the next morning, whining in agony as the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) would remind her of class several hours after it ended. It took me years to figure out that the reason I wasn't sore was that I didn't know how to recruit my innermost abdominals. I was skimming the surface without going very deep. Once I learned how to engage and target the internal abdominals, I was able to redefine my abs from the inside-out.

And that is exactly what I am going to show you how to do today!

Your core musculature is made up of layers of tissues, arranged in an oblong soft-tissue canister-like shape. Most of us are familiar with the 6-pack (actually a 10-pack) rectus abdominals, the external and internal obliques, and the corset-like transverse abdominals. But there’s more than that. There are deeper linings to the canister!

At the basin of the canister, there are numerous large and small pelvic floor and pelvic muscles. At the back-side of the canister, along the front and back of the lower spine is the mighty psoas, and the quadratus lumborum. And at the top of the canister is the dome-shaped diaphragm. Lastly, the diaphragm is further connected to the inside of ribcage, which is interwoven with muscular lacings of the intercostal muscles. All of these important soft tissues are like the innermost lining of your birthday suit, and they need to be stretched, toned and integrated into all of your core practices for optimum function, mobility and coordination. 

These muscles stitch together with fascias or connective tissues that help all of these tissues to adjust to every movement you make in a supportive way—like a well-tailored undergarment. But if any of these muscles are tight or congested, this ''undergarment'' buckles its own seams and does not fully adjust whether it's contracting or lengthening. And if your inner seams are not flowing well, the seams of the more external abdominal muscles are unable to fully express their range of contraction or stretch, either. Ever bought a "knock-off" designer suit where the suit's lining did not match up well with the actual suit fabric? If you don't properly exercise the innermost abdominals, you are wearing a knock-off of your own birthday suit! 

Here are a few exercises to help you build phenomenal internal core strength that will have a ripple effect of improving power and performance in every layer of your core:

1) LOCATE THE LAYERS: Abdominal Massage
  • Rest your abdomen on a soft inflated ball
  • Breathe deeply into your belly and attempt to flatten the ball with each inhalation. Repeat for 10 breaths.
  • Then slowly move from side-to-side so that the ball massages into all the soft tissues at the front of the core.
WHY? This helps to stretch the layers of abdominal myofascia and puts you in touch with the full range of motion of the diaphragm.

  • Place 2 grippy Yoga Tune Up® Therapy Balls (or tennis balls) along the side of your spine in the upper back region.
  • Breathe slowly into the ribs and rock from side-to side, allowing the balls to massage in toward the rib joints. Do this for 1-2 minutes on left side of the spine, switch sides and repeat for 1-2 minutes, then move the balls a few inches lower (under the ribcage) and repeat.
WHY? This frees up intercostal tension, mobilizes rib joints and posterior diaphragm rib connections, and massages deep back musculature.

3) Coreso Leg Lifts
Lie on a yoga mat with a yoga block or phone book under your pelvis and move into the position pictured above by following these steps:
  • Reach the arms overhead and externally rotate them so that the hands hold on to the sides of the yoga mat and attempt to pull the mat apart.
  • Stretch the right leg towards the ceiling (if hamstrings are tight, bend the knee), lower the left leg towards the ground without touching the floor, but do not allow the spine to lose its stability or natural curves.
  • Breathe for 1 full minute on each side while remaining stable. 
WHY? This pose targets the intimate relationship between our breath and our posture. You will feel a tremendous elongation of the connection between the respiratory diaphragm and iliopsoas. Hip flexors are lengthened as are the hamstrings, the lattisimus, and subscapularis.

4) Magician’s Assistant on a Ledge
  • Place your right hip on a yoga block and right elbow on the ground.
  • Engage your side-waist muscles (obliques and quadratus lumborum) to raise your legs to hover 4-6 inches above the ground.
  • Make sure that your shoulders, pelvis and ankles line up with each other, and that the 2 legs remain glued together.
  • Sustain the position while breathing deeply for 1 full minute, then switch sides.
WHY? This exercise targets the interface of both oblique layers and the deep lateral stabilizer, the quadratus lumborum. It also strengthens portions of the iliopsoas. (You will feel this one tomorrow!)


5) Intercostal Crunches
  • Place a soft air-filled ball at the base of your shoulder blades, firmly interlace your hands behind your head and bend backwards over the ball until the back of the head touches the floor (may need to place a rolled up towel underneath head if the backbend is too steep!)
  • Intensely draw the front of pelvis towards the rib cage and maintain this tension throughout the lowest part of the abdominals.
  • Inhale exclusively into the ribs so that they separate and fan apart (SEE IMAGE A).
  • On exhale, close the ribs shut, re-“caging” them and slowly raise the head off the floor to intermingle the intercostals with the transverse, obliques AND rectus abdominals in the crunch (SEE IMAGE B).
  • Very slowly exhale to reset and then begin again. Perform 15-20 complete crunches.
WHY? The ball provides a bit more range of motion for all tissues surrounding the spine and rib-cage to get involved with this dynamic version of the crunch. Abdominals used to doing standard “crunches” have likely been strengthened in a limited range for years. This version of the pose digs deeper than rectus abdominals and provides full innermost abdominal interactivity for the core.

About Jill Miller
Jill Miller is a yoga/fitness therapy expert. She instructs her original Yoga Tune Up® format worldwide and has produced over 55 critically acclaimed videos and therapeutic fitness products. Her innovative format is taught nationwide at Equinox gyms and has been featured on the "Today" show, ABC TV, FOX TV, SELF magazine, Shape, Fitness, Redbook, Prevention, Real Simple, Yoga Journal, Chatelaine, Whole Living, Muscle & Fitness, and more. She is based in Los Angeles, CA. Her newest DVD is entitled Coregeous®.

What is your favorite way to work your core?