There’s more to a strong mid-section than a flat tum. Here, Eve Boggenpoel reveals the best yoga poses to strengthen your core.
The prospect of a toned tum may be great motivation for an abs workout, but a strong core has far more benefits than a six pack. It improves your balance, coordination and flexibility and, by stabilising your pelvis, benefits your health, too, helping to prevent lower back pain, as well as reducing wear and tear on your spinal discs and ligaments.
When it comes to yoga, strong abs will make it easier for you to do inversions, such as headstand, shoulder stand and handstand, and enable you to come into and out of the poses with control. A strong core will also support standing balances – think chair pose, hand to toe pose and warrior III – and those often elusive arm balances, such as crow and peacock.
Toned abs will help your sports performance, too. A stable pelvis enables you to move freely in any direction – increasing your agility in fast-moving racket sports and team games, such as netball and football – and makes it easier to travel over uneven ground, so any trail running you do will be more efficient and fluid.
And the benefits don’t stop there… a strong core can boost your running speed, improve your swim performance, increase the weight you can lift and support you at the gym, too, for example when using the rowing machines.
Your abs are formed by three major muscle groups. At the deepest layer, the transverse abdominis (TA) is a flat sheet of muscle that wraps around your torso (it’s the muscle you feel contracting when you cough) and helps maintain your posture. As well as impacting your fitness performance, a weak TA leaves you more susceptible to lumbar spine injury, but you can help strengthen it with yoga poses, including plank and four-legged staff pose.
The next layer of muscles are the obliques (internal and external), and they can also compromise your lumbar spine if not as strong as they could be. Travelling diagonally from your ribs to your hips, your obliques allow you to twist your spine and bend your torso laterally. Build them up with twists, such as half lord of the fishes or supine twist with both legs bent, or postures that stretch the sides of the body, so consider including triangle or half moon in your routine.
Your six-pack muscles form the uppermost layer of your abs, lying either side of your navel. Known as rectus abdominis, you can give them a good workout with poses like boat or half boat, and arm balances such as crow. When you’re incorporating ab strengtheners into your weekly training or yoga routine, aim to do them at least twice a week, and remember to balance them out with poses that work the back of your body, too, such as downward dog, locust and bow pose. Keep it up for a couple of months and, trust us, it won’t be long before you start reaping the benefits.