You’ve heard it a million times—a strong core is the foundation of a strong body. And a growing awareness of the importance of core training has fueled the popularity of stability ball training, Pilates and yoga, among others. Here, we borrow three core strengthening moves from yoga and offer three variations to suit every fitness level. Don’t move on to the next challenge until you have mastered the previous variation, and avoid poses that cause pain or strain weak areas, such as the neck or wrists.
Side Plank (one elbow, one hand, with top leg extended)
Beginner: Begin on your side, one foot on top of the other and the elbow directly beneath the shoulder at a right angle. Contract the core muscles and lift your body into a bridge pose. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Intermediate: Place the hand directly beneath the shoulder and extend the upper arm.
Advanced: Slowly raise the top leg without allowing the hips to sway forward or back.
Boat (one leg up, knees bent, knees extended)
Beginner: From a slightly reclined position, bend the knees about 90 degrees and place the feet on the floor. Contract the abdominals and lift one foot off the floor while keeping the knees together. Lift the arms to parallel with the floor. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
Intermediate: Lift both feet off the floor while keeping the knees bent. Lift the chest and don’t allow the back to roll down to the floor.
Advanced: Straighten both legs and lift the arms up toward the feet while balancing on the sit bones.
Bridge (hands clasped, modified backbend, full backbend)
Beginner: Lie on the floor with knees bent and feet parallel and drawn in toward the buttocks. Lift the hips off the floor and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Clasp the hands together and extend the arms along the floor while contracting all the muscles along the backside of the body. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
Intermediate: Bring your hands along either side of your head, fingers pointing toward the feet, and extend the arms until you are balancing on the top of your head (don’t do this pose if you have any neck problems). Use the muscles of the legs and buttocks to keep the hips lifted.
Advanced: Straighten the arms and lift the body into a full backbend. Let the head hang—don’t strain the neck. Hold and lower down slowly.