Yoga pro Lesley Ambika Gibbs’s favorite exercises for a stronger core.
No matter if you’re a cyclist, a runner, a climber or a paddler, the one part of your body that’s critical to anything you do is your core.
The upper and lower abdominals, obliques and muscles in our back are the hinges that hold the rest of our body together and help it perform. “Everybody needs core strength,” says Lesley Ambika Gibbs, a yoga instructor at Vermont Sun in Middlebury, “Your center of gravity is there and you want to be able to support the rest of your structure.”
Gibbs has been teaching yoga in Vermont since 2004, and o ers a few suggestions for exercises that will strengthen your core, improve your posture and increase your aerobic capacity. These are well suited for athletes of any level (as long as you don’t have back problems), and can be modi ed for different levels of difficulty.
These moves engage two of the large muscle groups in your upper and lower core area, the rectus abdominus and the transverse abdominus. Strengthening these will help you maintain a relaxed posture during cycling or running and allow you to breathe more efficiently. “It’s hard to have a weak core and very strong posture,” Gibbs says.
In each of the following exercises, Gibbs aims for eight to ten reps of each. Beginners can try as few as five. You can also complete these exercises with an emphasis on time by setting a stopwatch for 30 seconds or more and doing as many reps as you can in that time.
A key to maximizing your success with exercises, Gibbs says, is to complete them in one fluid cycle, resting only ten seconds between each. “When you do these exercises for long enough, you’ll find you had muscles you didn’t know you had,” she says. —Evan Johnson
1. SINGLE LEG STRETCH
Start by lying on your back in a relaxed position. Your back should be neither arched nor pressed at to the floor. Without straining your neck, engage your abdominals to lift your head up so you can peer at your stomach as you raise your feet off the floor. Start by reaching your right hand toward your right ankle while your left hand is on your left knee. The left leg is extended straight out and off the floor. In a fluid motion, switch your legs, bringing your left knee to your chest and your left hand to the left ankle, while your right extends out (remember to keep your ankles off the floor).
2. DOUBLE LEG STRETCH
Lie on your back with knees at your chest, feet hip-width apart. Extend both legs, keeping your feet above the floor while your arms reach up. Then, in a wide sweeping motion, arms sweep toward your ankles as your knees come back to your chest. Your legs should never touch the floor.
3. SINGLE STRAIGHT LEG STRETCH
This exercise starts with both arms and feet pointed straight at the ceiling. Keeping your arms extended straight up, make a scissoring motion with your legs. Then, bring one leg slowly and smoothly down while the other remains up. You may want to place your hands under your hips to reduce lower back strain.
4. DOUBLE STRAIGHT LEG LOWER/LIFT
This one involves the same body position as the previous, but emphasizes the lower abdominal muscles. From the starting position, lower both legs, being careful not to overly arch your back. Don’t let your feet touch the floor before raising them again.
Start with both knees bent to your chest and your head and shoulder blades off the floor. Then, extend your right leg but keep it straight and raised off the floor. Engaging your lower abs, bring your right knee up to your left elbow, keeping the right leg off the floor at the same height as during the single leg stretch. Then, lower the right leg and bring the left knee up to the right elbow. This exercise engages the lower abdominals while the twisting motion also engages the oblique muscles.
6. BACK EXTENSION
After an intense abdominal workout, it’s important to counter by strengthening your back. In a classic back extension, lift your head, shoulder blades and legs off the floor, extending your arms out and forward. Hold the pose for counts of 10 to 20 seconds.