The Home Stretch: A Mid-Size Firm

Amelia Saul

I have a recurring dream. I’m walking on the beach, warm sand between my toes, hot sun sliding down my back, draped in a... bulbously demure muumuu.

That’s right, a muumuu. What? Bathing suit season hasn’t got you down?

Don’t let the spring showers fool you. Summer is fast approaching and the beckon of the beach season is another opportunity to consider your core. While abdominal work may not be the most relaxing of exercises, it is an important addition to any yoga practice or strength training regimen. A toned core can contribute to improved posture, better overall balance and reduced lower back pain.  Over time, strong core muscles help to increase flexibility by facilitating deeper and more comfortable stretches. 

Just like stars of reality television, your core needs a lot of attention to develop into its most powerful self. However, once strengthened, it will work as the driving support behind many of your other major muscle groups, including your back and legs. How does this translate to daily life? Quite simply, a strong core will help you stand taller, look leaner and exercise with ease.

Oh, and look awesome in a bathing suit? Yes, it’ll do that, too.

Of course, a healthy diet is also an essential part of any core-strengthening routine (For simple solutions to the standard salad, read The Vegetable Diaries every Tuesday on Go Healthy NY!).

The Exercises

Be patient when developing your core strength. It takes time to target and refine these muscles but with regular practice, the results can be dramatic. Work on the following exercises three to four days per week, allowing a day off in between to rest.

Boat Pose

Sit on your mat or a towel with your back straight and your legs stretched out in front of you. Draw your knees into your chest and try to balance with your feet hovering off the ground. Hold on to the back of your thighs. Bring your knees up to 90 degrees so that they are in line with the center of your chest, keeping your back straight and drawing your belly button in and up towards your spine. If this is enough for right now, remain here for five deep inhalations and exhalations before placing your feet back on the floor. 

For a deeper exercise, bring your knees back to 90 degrees and straighten your legs, trying to keep your toes at eye level (a.k.a. pedicure evaluation interval). Either keep a gentle grasp on the backs of your legs or let go and straighten your arms in line with your knees. Hold this position for five deep inhalations and exhalations before placing your legs back on the ground. Repeat the exercise, working toward five full repetitions. 

Nose-to-Knee Pose

Begin in the middle of your mat with your hands and knees shoulder- and hip-width distance apart, respectively. Press your palms into the ground, tuck your toes underneath you and send your hips up to the ceiling and towards the back of the room, coming into a downward-facing dog. Try to send your heels towards the floor as you press the ground away from you.  Allow your head to rest between your arms. 

Bring more weight into your palms as you lift your right leg off the ground. Draw your belly in as you bend your right knee and send it towards your core. Inhale and tuck your head towards your middle, trying to touch your nose to your knee. Exhale and extend your leg out straight behind you.  Repeat five times and then rest in downward facing dog or child’s pose on your shins. Repeat on the left side. 

Forearm Plank

Come to your hands and knees at the front of your mat. Place your forearms on the floor and hold on to your opposite elbow with your opposite hand to measure an even distance apart. Extend your forearms onto the mat in front of you so that they are in line with your elbows and pressing firmly into your mat. Extend your right leg behind you and then your left leg so that you are in one long plank with your forearms on the mat. Lift up out of your shoulders and draw your belly in and up towards your spine. Breathe. Remain for five deep inhalations and exhalations before bending your knees and placing them on the mat. Rest and repeat five times.

For a deeper exercise, come into a forearm plank and lift your right leg off the ground.  Hold for five breaths and repeat with your left leg.  Rest and repeat the full exercise five times.

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