The primary functions of the core—the abdominals, obliques and lower back, are to:
- Stabilise the spine and pelvis.
- Allow you to easily bend backwards, forwards, side to side and twist.
Unlike many popular core exercises that focus on the superficial abdominals (the six-pack), in yoga we target the deep core stabilisers, including the transverse abdominis, internal obliques, quadratus lumborum and multifidi. We do this both isometrically—holding poses still for several breaths and dynamically, in all planes of motion. Regular core stability training protects the body (especially the lower back) and enhances athletic performance.
CORE STABILITY YOGA POSES
In yoga, there are specific core-strengthening poses, including Plank, Side Plank, Boat and Locust. However, the transition between postures plays an equally important role, as long as your core is appropriately engaged. For most athletes, it is this focus on muscular endurance and joint stability rather than on strength alone that gives you the edge in performance.
A strong and supple core:
- Improves posture.
- Increases agility.
- Enhances balance.
- Improves coordination, body control and movement efficiency.
- Increases endurance.
- Enhances breathing.
- Boosts your ability to generate power.
- Protects your lower back and extremities from injury.
APPROPRIATE CORE ENGAGEMENT
A further advantage of training Core Stability in yoga is the focus on interoception or body awareness. Paying close attention to the sensations of core engagement as you move through the poses will heighten your ability to respond to similar sensations when you’re practicing your sport. You’ll find that you are better able to adjust your movement and posture subtly in order to improve your efficiency and reduce your fatigue.
If you find yourself struggling and wobbling in Core Stability sequences, try to relax. Shaking is great because it means that you’re building strength but if you find yourself straining and holding your breath, it may be that muscles that aren’t our primary focus are having to work harder than they should. See how effortless you can make your poses and transitions and you’ll find that you get far more out of the sequence.
A great cue from biomechanist Kelly Starrett is to think about “shrink wrapping your spine”. Or another instruction I like is to “draw your hip points towards each other”.
BEST TIME TO TRAIN CORE STABILITY
The best times to train Core Stability are in the morning when your energy levels are high and before exercise to activate key muscle groups. As well as improving your speed, endurance and other aspects of your performance, a strong core reduces your risk of injury not only in your lower back, but also in your shoulders, wrists, knees and ankles.