- Boat Pose
Boat pose is probably the best pose that you can do to simultaneously work on your posture and your lower abdomen. Most people compensate by using their upper abdominal muscles, and neglect the lower ones that are so important to lower back flexibility. Starting with the most basic variation of this pose (with feet lightly resting on the ground) is one of the best ways that you can build up your lower core strength, improve your posture, and increase your lower back flexibility.
• From a seated position, plant the feet as close as possible to your butt.
• Sit up as straight as possible; no slouching in the lower back.
• Lightly grip the thighs or shins to assist in straightening the spine.
• Lean back slightly through the chest and keep the sternum lifted to prevent arching in the back.
• Lift the legs, knees squeezing together.
• Hold for 30 to 60 seconds.
Tips: Start with just steps 1 - 3 before progressing to steps 4 - 6. Use your hand to check whether or not your back is flat. Depending on core strength, hamstring flexibility, and hip flexor strength, further extend the legs.
- Deep Squat
This is my favorite exercise for applied core engagement and stability in a squat. Often, people squat with no regard for the flatness of the spine. They hunch forward and focus on getting their butt down as low as possible. By focusing on the technique involved in a deep squat, and slowly leaning back as you get deeper to further strengthen the core, flatten the spine, and improve the power in your squat.
• Separate your feet about 2 feet apart, with toes facing as straight forward as possible.
• Bend knees slightly, then lower butt toward the ground, keeping knees behind toes.
• Keep chest upright and heels firmly planted.
• Allow knees to press to the outsides to deepen the squat.
• Flatten the back and make the chest as broad as possible. Hold for 30 - 60 seconds.
Tips: With palms together, press your elbows into your knees, and knees into your elbows to help engage the inner thigh muscles. This will allow you to squat deeper.
- Runner’s Lunge
Runner’s Lunge Twist is an awesome exercise to work on the strength of your traverse abdominals (deep abdominal muscle layer), while your body is already struggling to hold up your body weight in a deep lunge position. It also helps you work on balance because of the unfamiliar positioning involved.
• Start in a lunge, with knee over the ankle in the front leg, and the back leg straight.
• Lower hips toward the ground to form a ninety degree angle with the front leg.
• Lightly plant the hands on either side of the front foot.
• Lift the chest off the front thigh, using core strength to hold the weight off the upper body.
• Extend the arm corresponding to the front leg upwards, forming a straight line from hand to hand.
• Press the head forward away from the neck, and look up at the extended arm.
• Hold for 20 - 45 seconds.
Tips: Your lower body should not be any different in a twist than what it is in a standard runner’s lunge. The twist occurs from your waist up. Keep the hips even by slightly lowering the front hip, and lifting the back hip.
This is a great exercise for the beginning of any workout, because you don’t have to be very warm to do it, and it helps prep your body to use your core (instead of your lower back) when you start to do other movements. Focus on moving through this slowly. Use a mirror or a friend to make sure that your sucking your gut up and in to engage your core.
• Start in a six-point stance (tabletop) with toes untucked, hips under knees, and hands under shoulders.
• Inhale and extend the (left) arm forward and (right) leg back so that there is a straight line from back heel to extended fingertips.
• Exhale and squeeze the elbow of the outstretched arm to the knee of the extended leg under the chest, rounding the back.
• Repeat 3-6 times.
Tips: Draw out your breath as much as possible. Move at a slow, even pace. Keep your belly button lifted to take the arch out of your lower back.
- Skydiver (Full Locust)
Skydiver is an excellent indicator of core strength. It will also challenge your cardiovascular ability, forcing you to control your breath in order to maintain the posture for an extended period of time. Make sure that your abdomen stays engaged the entire time.
• Lay flat on your chest with legs extended and hands along your sides, palms facing down.
• Engage the core, reach the chest forward and lift the chest off the ground.
• Internally rotate and then engage the thigh muscles, lifting the legs off the ground and extending backwards through the toes.
• Lift the arms off the ground, palms facing down, reach the arms backward.
• Press your head and toes in opposite directions, then begin to lift up as high as possible.
• Hold for 20-45 seconds.
Tips: Create length before height. Keep the curve in your spine consistent; try to avoid overarching your neck.
These 5 poses and more can all be found in the Man Flow Yoga App, available on iOS from the Apple App Store for free. (For those of you that don’t have an iPhone, the Android version will be released soon.) You can also view the Yoga Basics for Men eBook on the Man Flow Yoga website for a complete digital guide to over 75 poses and exercises found in yoga, including the target areas, the practical benefits, the technique, and tips for each entry.