Ask clients what area of their body they want to improve most and many will say their midsection. The core includes not only muscles within the stomach area (such as the transversus abdominis and obliques), but also the hip flexors and glutes.
What are the advantages that come with doing a workout designed to build all these core muscles? Let's break them down.
The Mayo Clinic shares that, when you strengthen your core, you have better balance, better stability. This is because, when performing a workout that targets your core, it teaches the muscles in your midsection to work together as one.
Your pelvic floor learns how to work harmoniously with your abdominal muscles and your abdominal muscles learn how to work with the muscles around your lower spine and hips. This can help clients perform everyday activities, like walking and bending over, without fear of falling.
The Mayo Clinic adds that performing core exercises is also good for building abdominal muscles specifically. This enables clients to create the smaller, more defined midsection they desire.
If they play sports, research published in the journal Sports Medicine indicates that good balance can also improve their performance. Namely, it improves their ability to engage in movements such as the vertical jump and shuttle run. Balance increases agility too.
Creating this type of workout for clients may mean including a variety of crunches, planks, and other core exercises designed to target this specific area. Incorporating yoga poses is another option to consider.
Many yoga poses engage the core muscles. Some work by requiring you to tighten your abdominal muscles to support the full weight of your body, like when doing a plank. Others build those same muscles by keeping your extremities extended, such as the boat pose which involves balancing on your glutes with your arms and legs extended upward and outward.
In addition to working core muscles, yoga routines work other muscle groups as well. For instance, it can help increase back strength, from the neck to the bottom of the spine. From the muscles in the upper body (shoulders, arms, and chest) to the muscles in the lower body (hips, glutes, and legs), yoga provides a complete full-body workout.
There are also psychological benefits that come with regularly practicing yoga, providing clients even more benefits.
In February of 2018, the International Journal of Preventive Medicine printed an article about 52 women who practiced hatha yoga for a total of 12 sessions. After finishing these sessions, the ladies reported significant reductions in their depression, anxiety, and stress.
Another study, this one conducted in 2010 and printed in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, involved 34 subjects. Some were assigned to participate in 60-minute yoga sessions three times a week for a total of 12 weeks. The remaining group members were told to walk for the same amount and length of time.
Upon conclusion of the study, the subjects' moods were assessed. The group that did yoga showed greater improvements in mood than those who walked. They had lower anxiety as well.
The reason this is important is that, if the workout makes the client feel mentally better, they are more likely to stick with it long term.
When adding yoga strength training to clients' fitness routines, there are a few tips that can help improve their core strength as much as possible.
The first is to always keep their midsection muscles engaged when doing these core exercises. This helps build the abdominal muscles, but it also enables them to support the body when performing traditional yoga movements.
Also, stress with clients the importance of using proper posture. This increases effectiveness while reducing the risk of injury. For example, if performing a downward dog, their palms should be placed on the floor so they are wider than the shoulders. Additionally, their spine must be straight, with their head between their arms.
Some yoga poses may need to be modified until clients can increase their strength and flexibility. Sticking with the downward dog example, if they feel a tightness in their hamstrings that prevents them from straightening their knees fully, have them keep their knees bent slightly. This will take some of the pressure off the back of their thighs while enabling them to keep their core engaged.
Breathing is also important for improving core strength through yoga. According to the Yoga Journal, this is because the diaphragm connects the muscles that help stabilize the body, namely the pelvic floor, abdominal muscles, and muscles in the lower back. Thus, if it is rigid and inflexible, it can throw the balance off.
One exercise that works to relax the diaphragm is three minutes of straw breathing. This involves having clients lie on the floor with their shoulders back and chest open. Have them breathe in through their nose then exhale through a straw. This slows their breathing down, easing tension on the diaphragm.
To perform the boat pose, the client begins by sitting on the floor, their legs extended in front of them. Have them lean back slightly, keeping their back straight. Next, they lift their legs off the floor until their thighs are at a 45-degree angle before stretching arms outward until they are parallel to the floor. Engage the core and hold the pose for up to 60 seconds.
The starting position for the cat pose is called a "tabletop" and involves being on your hands and knees. The head is in a neutral position, so clients are looking at the floor. Upon exhaling, the spine is rounded while knees and shoulders remain in the same position. Next, have the client inhale and return to the tabletop position.
This pose is performed by standing with the arms hanging at the side, palms facing forward. Next, raise arms overhead with the palms facing inward. Have the client bend their knees, lean slightly forward, and try to go as parallel to the floor as they can. Their shoulder blades should be firm and tailbone down, holding this pose for up to 60 seconds.
Perhaps one of the most well-known yoga poses, the Warrior pose (also called Virabhadrasana) is another great core strengthening exercise. Clients start by standing with their feet together and arms at their side, palms facing forward. As they exhale, have them step forward so their feet are at least 3.5 feet apart. Next, they raise their arms, reaching toward the ceiling before turning both feet to the right, keeping heels in a straight line. The torso and pelvis should be turned to the right as well, with the left hip pointing forward. Lean forward until the right knee is directly above the right ankle and reach up as strongly as possible, pulling the ribs away from the pelvis. The head can either be in a neutral position, so they are looking forward, or it can tilt back as if looking up at their thumbs. Keep this position for 30 to 60 seconds before returning to the starting position.
The shoulder stand (Sarvangasana pose) can feel a bit overwhelming, especially for beginners. To ease some of their anxiety, it can be performed with the help of a wall. This involves placing a mat and several blankets against the wall so it is a few inches high. Next, have the client lie so their shoulders are on the mat and blankets and their head is on the floor. Their knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, with their feet against the wall and shins parallel to the floor. Press the heels into the wall while lifting the pelvis. Arms should be clasped under the body, with the shoulder blades lifted. If possible, have them hold this position for 60 seconds before relaxing and allowing the body to lower back down.
Remember that clients should be keeping their abdominal muscles—and all their other core muscles—engaged when performing these five yoga poses for maximum effect.
To learn more about yoga, the benefits it offers, and how to teach it to clients, check out the ISSA's Certified Yoga Instructor program. This online course helps you better understand the value that yoga has to offer, as well as how to relay that value to your clientele so you can grow your fitness business with this niche concentration.
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