The “core” is an area of the body that gets talked about frequently in health and fitness magazines and articles, but is often poorly understood. The “core” consists of the region between your shoulders and your hips. This includes your deep abdominal muscles, your superficial abdominal muscles, your obliques, and your back musculature. Therefore “core” exercises should be for more than just your 6-pack abs.
In running, the core is responsible for stability, for maintaining proper posture and form, and for transferring forces from one side of the body to the other (i.e. from leg to leg as you run). A strong and stable core translates to better running mechanics, fewer injuries, and the ability to produce more power.
In a yoga practice, the core sets up the base of the poses, assists with breathing, and is responsible for smooth transitions from one pose to the next. A strong and stable core here translates to a more fluid and controlled yoga practice, as well as better alignment and balance in poses.
As a runner and a yogi, my five go-to core exercises are:
- Front plank: rest on forearms or hands and feet, creating a straight line from shoulders to hips to feet.
- Modification: perform plank on hands or forearms and knees, instead of feet.
- Variation: pick up one foot for 10 seconds, switch sides, repeat.
- Side Plank: rest on one forearm or hand as well as on the outside edge of the same foot, stacking the other foot on top.
- Modification: perform side plank on hands or forearms and knees, instead of feet.
- Variation: lift top foot off of bottom foot.
- Russian Twists: come to seat balancing on the sacrum, feet lifted off ground with shins parallel to floor, and hands interlaced in front of you. Twist from right to left, tapping hands on the floor next to hips.
- Modification: keep heels of feet resting lightly on the ground.
- Variation: hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in hands.
- TRX Pikes: find pushup position with both feet in the straps of the TRX at the height of your hips and shoulders. Keeping legs straight use abdominals to pike hips up and towards the ceiling.
- Modification: instead of keeping legs straight, bend knees and tuck knees into chest.
- Variation: pike one leg up at a time, keeping the other leg relaxed.
- Locust: laying on your stomach, interlace your hands behind you. Contracting shoulder blades, low back, and glutes, lift your chest and legs off the ground and your hands off your low back, towards the ceiling.
- Modification: keep hands planted on ground next to your ribcage. Use hands to assist in lifting the chest off the ground.
- Variation: bend both knees, grab both ankles with both hands, kick into legs to lift upper body and legs off ground, coming into boat pose.