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I’ve been a competitive runner for more than 20 years and for most of that time, I’ve intentionally disregarded yoga. I’d assumed long ago that it wouldn’t offer anything meaningful to my workout routine. But as I’ve become older—and, it seems, wiser—I’ve found the exact opposite to be true.
After racing at the Division I level in college, I shifted my post-collegiate focus to intense training for half-marathons, marathons, and other road races. It wasn’t until after I recently began incorporating core-strengthening poses from yoga into my gym workouts that I began to feel stronger than ever.
Yoga poses tend to engage the core muscle groups often ignored by runners, hikers, cyclists, mountain bikers, and other outdoor athletes. Those include the transversus abdominis and other deep core muscles, the side abdominal muscles, the spinal stabilizers, and the overlooked pelvic floor muscles.
The benefit of incorporating yoga isn’t just the poses that you practice. It’s how you practice them. I’ve found that the static holds and breathwork emphasized by yoga have enhanced my endurance, my balance, and my ability to tap into the mind-body connection.
I take a “training wheels” approach by incorporating yoga poses into my usual ab or core workout. This ensures that I’m not neglecting traditional or dynamic core strength training. Yoga will never supplant my gym workout, but it can supplement it.
7 Core-Strengthening Yoga Poses That Every Athlete Needs
Following are the core-strengthening yoga poses that will benefit runners and any outdoor athletes. Rely on them as a complete core workout or incorporate three or four into your existing core exercise routine by replacing an exercise with a pose targeting a similar area. Change out Plank or Forearm Plank for Chaturanga or replace V-ups or toe-touch sit-ups with Boat Pose.
Cat–Cow is a dynamic exercise that mobilizes the entire spine, which is often overlooked during core-strengthening exercises. It’s basically a slow transition between two poses, and as you sync your movement with your breath, you bring awareness to your ability to isolate your vertebrae. You also train yourself to engage your deep transversus abdominis muscles each time you draw in your belly, which helps stabilize your core.
2. Chaturanga Dandasana (Four-Limbed Staff Pose)
This core exercise is similar to the familiar Plank and Forearm Plank drills. But Chaturanga demands that you draw your pubic bone toward your belly button to maintain your balance on your forearms and your toes, which engages your pelvic floor muscles. This is important as the pelvic muscles are crucial for improving your breathing mechanics and your stability as you run, squat, bike, or practice whatever outdoor adventure you most love.
Also, be sure to squeeze your glutes to relieve strain on your low back and find safe and optimal alignment.
3. Virabhadrasana 3 (Warrior 3)
All Warrior poses in yoga engage your core, but Warrior 3 is the best for strengthening your core muscles. The full-body balancing pose requires engaging all of your core muscles in a 360-degree manner to find and maintain your stability. You experience a similar demand on the core in running, hiking, and weightlifting exercises, although it’s easier to cheat on your form since you’re upright rather than steadying yourself on one foot.
4. Paripurna Navasana (Boat Pose)
Boat Pose is a static, isometric hold that requires tons of core control. This yoga core exercise strengthens not just your abs but supporting muscle groups, including your quads, hip flexors, and spinal stabilizers.
It’s important to keep your back and shoulders straight, rather than rounded, because this helps build your core strength and balance while also supporting proper posture. It also practices engaging the lower abs and lower back, which synergistically support your form. To maximize the benefit of this pose, bend your knees if you must rather than allow yourself to slouch.
5. Vasisthasana (Side Plank Pose)
One of the best yoga core-strengthening poses for your tricky-to-isolate obliques (side abdominal muscles) is Side Plank. It also shifts the load to your shoulders and demands support from your front and back core muscles, which must engage in varying degrees to support your balance.
6. Eka Pada Utkatasana (One-Legged Chair Pose)
This variation of Chair Pose is basically like holding a single-leg squat but by lifting one foot any amount It’s a strong pose for runners, cyclists, and outdoor athletes because it requires engaging your core to keep your trunk upright and body balanced while simultaneously strengthening your quads, glutes, hamstrings, and back. It not only strengthens your muscles but your sense of proprioception, which is an awareness of where your body is in space.
7. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose)
Downward-Facing Dog is one of the best yoga poses for any athlete as it stretches the entire posterior chain (hamstrings, glutes, lower back, calves, and Achilles tendons), which is not only essential but feels incredible after biking, running, hiking, rowing, using the elliptical machine, and almost any workout. It also strengthens the shoulders and core, which are often overlooked by those who engage in these endurance sports.
Focus on drawing your belly button toward your spine and squeezing your inner thighs and pelvic floor muscles. This approach engages your core in a complete and balanced manner. Engaging your quads and glutes will increase the intensity of the pose.
Additional Core-Strengthening Exercises for Athletes
If you’re looking to switch up your routine and work in different core-strengthening exercises, consider including bicycle crunches, reverse crunches, Pallof press using a resistance band or cable machine, Russian twists, and either hanging leg raises or stability ball jackknives.
Amber Sayer is a fitness, nutrition, and wellness writer and editor. She holds a master’s degree in exercise science and a master’s degree in prosthetics and orthotics. She is a NCSA-certified personal trainer, UESCA-certified running coach, triathlon coach, and endurance nutrition coach.
This content was originally published here.