Everyone wants a strong core, both to help you be a strong, efficient runner, and to make activities in daily life easier. Here, we have two simple yoga poses you can add to your strength and mobility routine tonight, with modifications so that they work for everyone.
Why core strength?
The main role of all those inner core muscles is to stabilize your spine and provide support for all the activities you do, including running. They transfer force through your body to prevent back, hip, knee and neck pain. The core muscles also work in unison to allow you to breathe properly.
A lack of stability in your torso puts increased strain on other parts of your body (like your lower back, hips and knees), eventually causing them to break down. If you’re a trail runner, having more stability through your trunk will also help you deal with uneven terrain, so you’re less likely to fall or even roll an ankle.
Fit these in post-run, or get flowing with a sun salutation or two. I like the way online yoga teacher Adriene Mishler guides these sun salutations to warm your body up.
Boat pose (Navasana)
Boat Pose not only targets your core area, but also strengthens your hip flexors, adductors (groin), and the lower back muscles supporting your spine. If boat pose initially feels hard, don’t worry–there are endless ways to modify, and you’ll notice improvement quickly.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight in front of you, hands on the floor a little behind your hips. Lift through the top of the sternum and lean back slightly, working to keep a straight back.
Exhale and bend your knees, then lift your thighs so they are angled about 45 degrees above the floor, with your knees still bent. If possible, slowly straighten your knees, raising the tips of your toes as high as eye level.
Keep your chest open and your spine long, and draw your shoulders back while you extend both arms forward alongside the legs, parallel to the ground. Point your toes or flex through your heels, and breathe. Try to stay in the pose for 10 to 20 seconds, working on increasing the time you hold for.
If traditional boat pose isn’t right for your body right now, try keeping your knees bent and shins parallel to the floor. If you are working on building the strength to hold the pose with your arms and legs outstretched, try the pose holding onto your legs, behind your knees.
For more intensity, lower both your legs and your upper back closer to the mat; if you need more support, leave your hands touching the floor to support you, or start with both feet planted on the ground and work on lifting one leg at a time.
Plank and side plank variations (Phalakasana)
Plank pose works the entire body effectively in one static position. Holding this pose a few times a day will strengthen your abdominals, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, back, core, glutes and legs.
Begin on hands and knees (tabletop position). Move your feet back and straighten your legs. If you’re new to planks, hips tend to hike upward or sink down–aim to keep them in a straight line between the shoulders and the heels.
Imagine your lower body is a tray supporting your lower back. Maintain tone in the pit of your abdomen while reaching forward through your sternum (chest) and pressing your heels back.
Build up to holding for a minute (or more) at a time.
From plank pose, roll onto the outside edge of your right foot, and stack your left foot on top of your right. Swing your left hand onto your left hip, turning your torso to the left as you do. Support the weight of your body on the outer right foot and right hand.
Imagine your body is one long diagonal line from your heels to the crown of your head, and stretch your left arm toward the ceiling, so it is in line with your shoulders. Stay here for a few breaths, then return to plank and repeat on the other side.
If staying in that long line in plank pose feels impossible, lower your knees and aim for a line from the knee to the shoulders, through the neck and crown of your head. To take it down a notch in the side plank, use one leg as a kickstand. Bring your top leg forward and plant your top foot in front of you, and then press up through your hips.
Try a forearm plank for more intensity, keeping that same long line but lowering yourself onto your forearms. Want more? Walk your toes toward your body, raising your hips to the ceiling into dolphin pose–hold for several breaths, then walk your toes back out, and repeat.