Six Tools for Practical Core Strength

Editor's note: Today's blog was written by our good friend and amazing yoga instructor Bree Dillon, owner of Motive Yoga Co. Her approach to yoga is much like ours to running and skiing, focusing on balance, and supporting your active life for years to come.

Core is aptly named. It’s the central most part of our physiology and the origin of all of our movement.  It doesn’t matter where you are on the activity spectrum, the health of your core can change the course of your life.

First, let’s redefine the “core” from the limiting idea of six-pack abs to the collection of muscles on the front and back of your body that support your pelvis and spine— abs, back and glute muscles. This is important to understand so that as you train for effective, functional core strength you don’t rob yourself, or even worse, create odd muscular compensation or dysfunction because you left out a whole set of muscles.

As an athlete, anatomy geek, yoga teacher I’ve developed a high quality cache of core exercises that I use and teach my students.  Here are six of my favorites and why:

Because we sit so much our abs are generally short, weak and dysfunctional. Focus your training on the low deep abs, transverse abdominus (TVA) to boost strength and stability.



  1. Shrinkwrap: Lay on your back. Bend your knees and set your feet flat on the floor.  Slow down your breath and direct it in and out of your stomach. On your next exhale “shrink-wrap” your abs, cinching them like a snug vest (different that “sucking in”).  Keep them 15% shrinkwrapped as your take your next inhale. Repeat. This is the perfect way to activate TVA.

  2. Reclined Chair: Stay on your back.  Activate TVA (see above) to stabilize your spine and pelvis then lift your shins to parallel with the floor.  Practice breathing into your stomach and shrink-wrapping your abs. If you can maintain stability lower your right foot to tap the floor, then lift it back up.  Repeat 10 times right and  left but don’t let your pelvis or spine move. If they do, don’t lower your foot as far.

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Our back muscles are often overstretched and weak from our poor posture which inhibits athletic performance but it also messes with our breathing and hormones. These are two of my favorite back strengtheners for their high “return on investment."

  1. Cobra: Lay on your stomach.  Press the top of your feet into the floor, engage your quads, synch your abs away from the floor, slide shoulder blades together and lift your chest. Lift and lower with your breath. Repeat 10-15 times. Tip: Don’t crane your neck!

  2. Chair Hinges: Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart, knees over ankles, extend your spine, bend your arms and squeeze elbows behind you and repeat a series of hinges. You should feel your hamstrings stretch as you lower your torso and your glutes engage as you lift. Repeat 15-20 times until your back muscles burn!

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Many of us suffer from underperforming glutes and overly tight and weak hip flexors. The following exercises target these two chronic problems by activating lazy buns and eccentrically strengthening the psoas.

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  1. Twist Tie: Lay on your back. Stabilize your pelvis and spine by activating TVA.  Lift your right leg up toward the ceiling and your left leg straight forward, hovering above the floor.  Open your right leg to the right and your left leg to the left but keep them both on their respective plains. Repeat 10 times then switch.  

  2. Standing Lunge Hip: align your right knee over your ankle and lunge your left leg back. Lean your torso forward with your arms by your hips and extend the spine lifting from the sternum. Hold for 10 slow breaths.  It should feel like work for your right hip.

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BONUS Tidbit

In order to gain access to the full potential of your core you also have to reorganize your posture and repattern muscular habits. Do your strengthening work but also be sure to stretch your chronically tight muscles: hamstrings, pecs and hip flexors.

Thank you, Bree! Make sure to check out Motive Yoga Co. in the Fremont studio, or in the Methow Valley.

Alison Naneyyoga, coreComment