I´ve written before about yoga poses to improve your core strength and balance, and I´m blown away by how often that article is shared.
As a fitness instructor, certified yoga teacher (RYT500) and woman in midlife (I will turn 57 later this year), I rely heavily on core strength.
Keeping the core balanced and strong is key when it comes to quality of life, especially after a certain age.
But, what is the core exactly?
The core is often mistaken with the abs.
While the abs are part of our core, they are not the only component.
The core acts like a girdle around our midsection.
It includes the transverse abdominis or TVA, which you can locate by placing your fingers around an inch or two above your hip bones and attempting to bring your navel towards your spine.
The muscle you will feel tightening is your TVA.
The core also includes the erector spinae, which extends throughout the lumbar, thoracic and cervical areas, and the lower lats on the back.
We aren´t done yet!
The obliques also comprise the core.
There are the internal obliques, and then the external obliques which are the famous “six-pack” muscles.
These go from the hips to the rib cage.
Why is it so important to work our core?
Working our core becomes important for several reasons as we age.
Having a strong core improves our balance and stability. It helps prevent falls and improves our quality of life.
Being able to sit and stand up without help, walk up and down stairs and recover your balance when you trip (because at some point, you will trip), are wonderful benefits.
There are many solid reasons to exercise in midlife and beyond, and having a strong core makes it much more enjoyable, as that alone improves your strength and stamina.
Many women complain about midlife spread, and while core exercises alone will not take care of fat deposits in our midsection, they will certainly help us stand taller and more confidently.
Midlife workouts are a must.
My favorite core drills for midlife women
These are my favorites because they are effective.
The older I get, the more I mindful I am about how I spend my time and my energy.
It is far more effective to practice these daily for a total of 10 to 15 minutes than to wait until Sunday and work out for an hour and then do nothing for another week.
Keep in mind that form is always more important than the number of reps, and that modifying a pose to adjust to your current fitness level beats getting injured on day one.
That said, I hope to inspire you to embrace some or all of these moves, some of which I did not always enjoy (because I had a weak core), to reach the levels of strength and self-confidence that you deserve at this time in life.
Ah, I can already hear you saying “but I hate to plank”!
Trust me, it took me a while to enjoy it too.
However, this is possibly the king of core exercises.
It works most if not all of the core muscles, and, practiced consistently over time, it gets easier and easier.
If you´re not strong enough to hold a regular plank without losing alignment, then start out with your knees on the floor.
If that is too much, then start leaning on a banister, or a wall.
Start from where you´re at.
Once you´re in your version of plank, remind yourself to breathe, to bring your navel to towards the spine, to protract your shoulders (moving your shoulder blades away from the spine) and relax your neck.
Hold for as long as you are able to without losing proper form.
You can also time yourself. Perhaps set a timer for 15 seconds, then aim for 30 seconds and so on.
2.- Dolphin plank
This is basically the same as regular plank, but done on your forearms instead of your hands.
For some people this can be easier, but for others it can seem harder.
Don´t fret either way, just practice, and over time, you´ll learn to love it.
Use the same modifications as for regular plank -knees on the floor, or standing up and leaning on a wall- until you get stronger.
The most important thing again is to keep breathing throughout and to know when to get out of the pose.
Don´t wait to lose form and collapse.
Tune in to your body and it will tell you when enough is enough, before risking injury.
3.- Tabletop leg and arm extension
First, get into tabletop position (also known as all-fours).
Make sure your shoulders are right above your wrists and your hips are right above your knees.
Once again, think of pulling your navel towards the spine (this helps engage the core), and also engage your pelvic floor (think of kegel exercises).
Reach one arm forward at a time, relaxing the neck and engaging the upper body and the core.
When you´re comfortable with that, then extend the opposite leg back.
Make sure your hip is closed (toes and knee are pointing towards the ground) and the entire leg is engaged.
Reach back with the heel while reaching forward with the opposite hand.
I have lordosis, which is a pronounced curvature of the lower back, so this pose may look different for you.
You can either hold it here for around eight breaths (or as long as you are able to), or pulse up with hand and foot for eight counts.
Switch to the other side and repeat.
4.- Boat pose
It also took me a few years to enjoy this one, so don´t get discouraged if you don´t love it at first!
When practicing any variation of boat pose think of lifting your chest to the sky or ceiling, grounding your sit bones and, once again, bringing your navel towards the spine.
You may start with your legs bent at the knee and just lifting your toes off the ground slightly.
You could modify the pose by placing your hands behind you or to your sides, as you get stronger.
Eventually you can explore lifting your legs bent at the knee and eventually lifting your arms out in front of you.
As you grow stronger you may be able to extend your legs and hold the V-shape for a few breaths.
Always remind yourself to relax your neck and smile. 😀
It´s all about engaging the core though, not what the pose ends up looking like.
If you can feel your core engaging, you´re doing fine!
5.- Awkward airplane
This is not a beginner pose, so you can start by simply holding your arms out to the sides, one at a time.
Then, experiment with “fire hydrants,” where you lift the knee up to the side while on all fours.
Build up to extending the leg out to the side to get used to opening your hip.
Then practice placing a yoga block under your foot and holding your leg there.
Eventually you may be able to lift the leg straight out to the side, keeping both hands on the floor.
And when you feel you´re strong enough, then you can venture lifting one arm and the opposite leg out to the side, as in the photo.
You may hold it for a few breaths, or pulse up with hand and foot for around eight counts, and then switch sides.
6.- Yoga or pilates bicycle
The trick with these is to do them relatively slowly and in a controlled manner.
If you find that your neck is strained or that you just can´t keep your back straight, then be kind to yourself and modify the pose.
Rest your arms behind you and pedal the legs without moving your upper body.
The higher your legs are the easier it will be and the lower they are to the ground, the more challenging.
You can then practice with your feet firmly planted on the ground and twist only your torso.
When you´re strong enough, then perhaps place your hands gently behind your head.
And finally, put it all together and bicycle twisting your torso and extending one leg at a time.
Once again, breathe comfortably and rest before you´re all-out fatigued.
If these all seem impossibly hard, please don´t give up. I work out daily and have been into fitness my entire life. But if your case is different, be kind to yourself.
Time will go by whether you give yourself a chance to get stronger or not.