Written by Lucy Alves
Last time we focused on healthy knees and explored numerous fun exercises. I do hope you have been practising your slides and lifts? Because this time you will need to awaken and switch on your hip flexors. Yes, these are part of your core as well. Not only will working your core give you a leaner look, but it also gives you functional use of that core you never had! Gaining a six-pack comes from the burn that you feel during exercise. Training the top layer of the abdominal muscle will eventually help you end up with that round six-pack rather than that so desired flat one.
Okay, so at this point you have done your slides and side planks? Ready to explore some fun and challenging exercises? Read our following 10 Top Tips!
First thing we need is to consolidate that natural arch in the lumbar spine, protecting the lower back by activating the front and back. To do that we need to stop the ribcage from lifting up to the ceiling. To prevent a strain on the linea alba (that white line between the both halves of your six-pack) and not end up with a separation in the abdomen. Lengthen yourself along the floor while you move the lower ribs towards the upper crest of the pelvis. Don’t move or tilt the pelvis! This is one of the first steps to help you to achieve that stable, stronger and a flat abdomen.
Next tip, get yourself a belt! Keep it in arms reach because you might just need it. Take your blocks as well, you never know.
Place the blocks to either side of your legs and sit between them with your legs straight and feet dorsiflexed in Dandasana. Hands beside your hips on the floor, lengthen the spine, sit up right and bring those lower ribs toward the upper crest of your pelvis, remember to keep the feet dorsiflexed, engage the inner thighs and bring the straight legs closer into the chest which will lift your L-sit off the floor.
Not happening? Arms too short? Or is your core just not switched on and did you forget to lift the legs with your core? Remember Lolasana?
Try again, this time blocks beside your hips, hands on the blocks and lift that L-sit, hold that for 10 breaths. Too long? Get a cramp in the quads? Or your legs are just too heavy?
Take your belt and sit in L-sit while you tie the belt around yourself, just above the knee on the fleshy part of the hamstring and around the back, just under the armpit. Hands on the blocks, engage the TvA by bringing those ribs down, and lift your bound L-sit. You still have to use your core it’s just a little easier. Hold for 20 breaths.
Then try to lift your L-sit without blocks or belt.
That was your deeper core again, time to move on to that six-pack perhaps?
Lie on your back with knees bent, feet hip width flat on the floor. Keep the knees from flaring out to the sides, which means you will have to engage the inner thigh muscles. So, active feet, active inner thighs, first stage core activation. Become aware of the arch in your lower back and how natural that feels. Easy, isn’t it?
Now all you do is press your feet deeper into the floor, don’t tilt, move, or lift the pelvis, just feel. Become aware of a tightening feeling around the navel, but at the same time keep a hold of the natural arch in the lumbar spine. Then bring both legs off the floor, a 90 degree angle in hips and knees so that the lower legs are parallel to the floor. On your exhale extend the right leg and let it hover above the floor, and bring the left arm overhead simultaneously. Inhale back into the starting position, exhale change to the other side. Do this 5 times, alternating sides.
Then we add a twist, exhale, extend right leg to hover and bring the left hand not overhead but to the outside of the right knee. Inhale to centre and exhale other side. 5 times as well.
If you find this easy we move on to a little more challenging position. Navasana, or boat, but to be precise a half boat.
Same exercises as above but from half navasana. Balance on the back tips of the sitting bones, keep the back straight, chest broad and open, extend the arms parallel with the floor.
For the twist variation, inhale and reach the left arm up, exhale extend right leg to hover and twist from the waist to bring the left arm and upper body to the outside of the right leg. Inhale to centre, exhale navasana, inhale reach the right arm up, exhale twist. Repeat 5 times, alternating sides.
Let’s do an exercise now that targets the same muscle, the RA, as you would when doing crunches but then healthy for the back as well as giving you a stable and flat core.
Lift the legs in tabletop position. Hips and knees in 90 degrees. Place your arms beside your body, palms flat on the floor. Keep those ribs moving towards the pelvis and the head of shoulders to floor opening the chest for that much needed breath.
Exhale and extend one leg at a time, on the inhale bring the leg back to tabletop, alternating sides.
If this was easy move on to straight legs, if this pulls on your lower back you have the option to place the hands under the sacrum to help tilt the pelvis back, preventing the spine from arching.
And now for the real challenge, or maybe fun?
Lie on your back and lift both legs straight up in the air. You will have to engage the inner thighs and quads to keep it together and lifted. Imagine you have a zipper between your legs and the legs are zipped together from crotch to ankles. Switch on that entire core from the feet up! Now bring your chin to the throat, keep your neck long and released, then bring the lower ribs to the pelvis and lift head and shoulders off the floor, reach with your fingertips to the toes. Exhale, lower the legs slightly and bring the arms alongside the ears, but keep the upper body off the floor. Inhale and bring legs and arms back up. Exhale, repeat but bring the legs slightly lower this time. Continue until you reach the point where you feel that should you lower the legs even closer to the floor the spine would arch off the floor and you’d loose the natural arch.
All this time we have focussed our attention to the front of the body, but you do remember I’ve pointed out that the core is more than abs?
To try and make this more clear let’s try to roll from your back to the belly only using your abs! So no pushing off with the feet, lifting the head, using your shoulders or arching the back. Just engage those abs and roll over. Not happening is it?
Now engage your feet, zip your legs together, bring the arms overhead and clasp the hands together. Engage one side of your body, as if you are going to arch sideways into a banana shape and then, with straight legs, roll over. Did you notice how not only the abs but the whole of the core is needed?
And were you aware of that much stronger contraction of the TvA, Pelvic Floor and Obliques?
Now it’s time to flip over and start stretching the front and strengthening that oh so important back side.
Lie on your belly with the hands stacked under the forehead. As you inhale you can feel the belly press in the floor. With that press of belly try to lift the chest up. Don’t arch the neck, but keep the forehead on the hands. Just lift the chest using the lower back muscles. Inhale lift and the exhale releases you down. Remember that your breath is what instigates this movement.
When you’ve got that we’re going to expand on this. Straighten your arms out in front of you, still looking at the floor. On the inhale lift upperbody and arms but also the legs. Exhale, pretend to swim, bringing the arms as if in breaststroke alongside the body, inhale, lift your upperbody higher and bring the arms forward again, exhale lower.
Have fun with these for now. Still feeling the lower back? I would say you’ve been pushing yourself past what your core can handle today and pulled these exercises from your back instead of strengthening the muscles we were focusing on.
Remember, sometimes less is more!