At the age of 30, I am proud to say that I have a stronger, more stable, supportive core than I ever have before. Despite a major back injury this past year and moderate skeletal scoliosis, I began to sense a strong increase in core strength about 6 months ago when I started incorporating the tips that follow into my personal practice.
Now, I want to first note that a strong core does absolutely, under any circumstances mean a glistening six pack. First of all, many of us are not even genetically capable of achieving such physical results, despite a super low body fat percentage. I am one of these people, now I am not at my leanest now, but even when I am the best I can get is a faint line down my middle when I flex super hard and some superficial definition around my hip bones and ribs. That’s it - I used to do TONS of concentrated core work with barely any visible results but I did not have a full understanding of what I was doing and HOW I was doing it.
When I talk about a strong core - I truly mean your “core” - the deep, internal muscles that wrap around your spine and those that hold your digestive/reproductive organs in place. I do not mean the superficial look of your abs but rather the FUNCTIONAL strength, stability, mobility and flexibility that helps to protect your spine, correct your posture, and deepen your connection to your body. To me, your core is more of an action rather than a thing. The breathing, twisting, turning, gripping, releasing that happens in this part of the body - together these actions quite literally form your center. It is the point from which most movement begins - including everything from sitting comfortably to holding a killer handstand.
Okay, enough already! Want to know my secrets? Stay tuned for the last tip - it will blow your mind!
Without too much more rambling, here are my top tips to increase your core strength so that you can feel stronger, fitter and more balanced in your body.
before beginning any type of exercise, start with 3-5 minutes of core work (after warming up). I do this in each and every yoga class I teach (I demo along with my students). I think it has made the BIGGEST difference for both my students and myself because when we warm up your core BEFORE the rest of a workout, we become connected to those muscle groups and tend to engage them more throughout the rest of our time moving our bodies. This applies to any and all physical movement, not just yoga, and it’s a total game changer!!!
When doing core work remember to BREATHE! It’s so easy to hold the breath in core work but it can be such a detriment and actually it can begin to take the “work” out of it. The general rule is to exhale when it’s “hard” and inhale when it’s “easy”. When you exhale, think about drawing your navel toward your spine. In my classes, I start with the breath first and then connect that to core movement and that seems to work well. Complete a few deep rounds of breath - feeling your belly rise and fall (as well as your back and side body expand) before beginning.
To expand on the point above, start your core work with SLOW, small, subtle movements that are deeply INTENTIONAL and then build from there. Moving to fast too quick can cause low back injury and again, take the “work” out of your ‘core work’. Focus on truly feeeeeeeeling your way through the inhale and the exhales - squeeeezing and releasing your core through each and every movement. To take this further, you can hooooollldddd at the top of your inhale or bottom of your exhale as you deepen the movement just a teensy bit more.
As I said above, your core is not just located at the front of your body around your belly button, it is like a corset that wraps around your entire center, cinching and holding all of your valuable inner organs and spinal column - it’s a complex muscle group that needs 360* attention. When doing core (aka ALL) exercises don’t focus only on your abdominal wall, pay attention to your obliques, your back body AND the base of your pelvis (for my yogis your MulaBanda) in addition to pulling your navel to your spine, energetically lift your pelvis up towards your belly for full core engagement.
ALL body work is core work! Whether you are in your standing yoga poses, on the beach for a run, or sitting in a chair at the office- you have the opportunity to strengthen your core - when standing or even sitting, think about drawing your frontal hip points up towards your rib cage and then knit your ribs together while lifting your pelvic floor up and pulling your navel back - this will drop your tail bone down, release extra strain in the hip flexors and keep your spine supported. Of course it can become tedious to constantly remind yourself to this bit as you continue to strengthen, it becomes second nature
Stretching your core is just as important as strengthening it. Stretch and strength are intrinsically linked - you can’t have one without the other. Make sure you are taking enough time to lengthen out the muscles around your belly, your spine and your sides
And finally....you’re not going to believe this one...(but I think it’s made a huge difference for me), is to LET YOUR BELLY BE SOFT MOST OF THE TIME. Think of your entire core as a ballon - it is meant to inflate and deflate - it digests our food, holds your guts in place, and if you’re female it can house our most sacred reproductive organs. If we never ever relax our stomach, if we are constantly “sucking in” our “pooch”, then we aren’t honoring our bodies and therefore creating resistance. Our bellies store fat and are naturally soft on purpose - a soft, expansive, and fully LOVED belly area will only help to deepen your connection to that part of you and help, in time to strengthen your core. Honor the the balance between your rigidity and your ability to remain open. I do not mean this as a threat but it is true - you can’t have strength if you do not also soften. Explore your belly with hands as you breathe - and accept it for all it is- it’s perfect and wonderfully yours. It is already strong, it does so much for you all day long.
Want to hear me talk more about your core while actually doing the work? Check out my most up-to-date teaching schedule here.