The coveted six-pack is here to stay, but before you start doing a bunch of ineffective crunches, there's something you need to know. Aesthetics aside, having a strong core is essential for everything from balance and stability to preventing injury during other activities, according to Harvard Health Publications. Work on your core and you're also working toward better posture, comfort while you twist or lift items, a pain-free back and more.
There are four main abdominal muscle groups: The deepest muscle layer, the transversus abdominis, stabilizes your trunk. The internal and external oblique muscles work together to rotate the trunk. The final muscle in the group, the rectus abdominis, draws the ribs down toward the hips to create spinal flexion–and six-pack abs. If you're lean and do a ton of crunches you'll surely develop a six-pack, but crunches alone are not going to stabilize your core.
How can you stabilize your core and build killer abs? Three things: clean eating, cardio and smart strength training. With its challenging stabilization poses, yoga is a great place to start. Try these seven poses that target your middle and deliver in all the all the right ways. You'll be feeling these in a hurts-so-good kind of way tomorrow.
Boat: Boat pose strengthens the abdominal muscles, hip flexors and spine.
Getting into the Pose: Sit on the floor with your knees bent in front of you, arms extended. Maintain a long, straight spine as you rock back on your sitz bones, and float your toes off the floor.
Turn up the Heat: Extend your legs, then bring your biceps up by your ears
Lifted Lotus: Lifted lotus is a triple threat—it's not only an abs blaster, but it also builds strength throughout your entire upper body.
Getting into the Pose: Begin sitting cross-legged or in lotus (lotus should NOT hurt your hips or knees). Place your palms on the floor next to your hips. Pull your belly in and press down into the floor and hover. This is a difficult pose, so work into it by placing blocks under your hands for support.
Turn up the Heat: Extend your legs straight, making an "L" shape with your body.
Plank: Plank strengthens the upper body and abdominal muscles. Truly one of the best abs stabilizers out there, this move can be done on the palms (like the start of a pushup) or on the forearms.
Getting into the Pose: Begin on your hands and knees. Stack your shoulders directly over your hands, look between your thumbs and tuck your toes under. Press the floor away and your belly in as you extend your legs, one at a time.
Turn up the Heat: Lift one leg and float your toes off the ground, then draw your knee in towards your nose. Repeat on the opposite side.
Forearm Side Plank: Side plank dives into the oblique muscles and strengthens your entire core in the process.
Getting into the Pose: Find your way into a forearm plank. Turn your forearm 90 degrees and roll onto one side, stacking your feet on top of each other and hovering your hips off the ground.
Turn up the Heat: Float your top leg for an added challenge.
Eagle Sit-Ups: A variation on the crunch, the leg positioning in eagle sit-ups challenges your obliques while the arm wrap opens the shoulders.
Getting into the Pose: Lie on your back and cross your right leg over the left (and right ankle under left, if you can). Then wrap your right arm under your left, palms touch in front of your face. Lift your shoulders and hips off the ground. Release, tapping your toes to the ground, and repeat 10 times before switching sides.
Turn up the Heat: Draw your elbows to the outside of the knees.
Standing Head to Knee Variation: This standing pose deeply engages the lower abdominal muscles and hip flexors.
Getting into the Pose: Stand tall with your feet firmly planted on the ground, hand on your hips and eyes on a fixed point in front of you. Lift your right knee, bringing your thigh parallel to the floor. Slowly extend your right leg. Repeat on the other side.
Turn up the Heat: Move into the full expression of Standing Head to Knee by walking your hands down your leg toward your foot.
Camel: It may seem counterintuitive to put a backbend in an abs-buster series, but it takes tremendous strength and control to safely bend backward and return to a neutral spine. Spinal extension is also a great counter pose to persistent flexion—which makes camel the perfect closing pose.
Getting into the Pose: Begin kneeling on the ground with your toes tucked under, and place your hands in your (imaginary) back pockets. Lengthen your tailbone toward the floor, tone your belly and lengthen through your waist. Lift up, then slowly bend back. Use a block between your legs if you need added stability.
Turn up the Heat: Release your hands to your heels, or draw your biceps by your ears, one arm at a time for single arm camel.
Print out all the poses for your on-the-go workouts!
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