Strengthen the core from all directions.
Integrating core moves can be challenging, given all the other work that needs to be done in a 45- to 60-minute class. Sometimes instructors skip core training or inadvertently leave it out because of time constraints and/or lack of preparation. Integrate this important element within the framework of your class after completing lower-body work. In lower-body exercises (e.g., squats, lunges), an activated core is needed to ensure proper form—wait until after those big movements are finished before fatiguing the core further.
Each of the following movements—quadruped, side plank, bicycle and plank—is intended to work one area of the core but engages other areas for support or “synergy.” Alignment, core engagement and proper shoulder girdle and hip positioning are all important aspects of these exercises. Know how to perform, regress and progress each of these moves before adding them to your class. Start with 30 seconds per exercise and increase to 2 minutes, repeating 1–2 times. Flow continuously with little rest in between.
Muscles Worked: erector spinae, glutes, lats, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis.
- Kneel on all fours, positioning knees and feet hip width apart.
- Place hands on mat, positioned directly beneath shoulders at shoulder width, fingers facing forward (keep elbows soft).
- Engage core and abdominal muscles by drawing navel toward spine, keeping spine in neutral.
- Extend left leg (raise and straighten but don’t lock knee) until it is parallel (or nearly) to floor without any rotation in the hip (keep both hips parallel to floor).
- Raise and straighten right arm until it is parallel (or nearly) to floor without tilting at shoulders. Keep both shoulders parallel to floor, head aligned with spine.
Tip: Low-back “sagging” is common in this exercise. Raise limbs only as far as low-back position can be maintained. Lower yourself back to starting position, and repeat with opposite limbs.
Muscles Worked: quadratus lumborum, hips, back, transversus abdominis.
- Lie on left side with legs stacked, left arm and elbow supporting torso, and shoulders away from ears (in preparation).
- Extend hip to form a plank, with left arm straightening, right arm at side.
- Stack feet on top of one another.
Regression: Begin on elbow, and pivot from bent knees.
Progression: Extend right arm to form vertical line with both arms, and/or abduct right leg.
Tip: Cue participants to keep body in straight line, engage core, extend hip and keep shoulder blades retracted. Repeat on right side.
Muscles Worked: Obliques, rectus abdominis.
- Lie face up on floor and lightly lace fingers behind head.
- Draw knees in toward chest and lift shoulder blades off ground, engaging abs.
- Straighten left leg while simultaneously rotating upper body right, bringing left armpit toward right knee. Change sides, straightening right leg while rotating upper body left, bringing right armpit toward left knee.
- Progress and regress by monitoring how much you extend leg in opposition (less extension is easier).
- Continue alternating sides in “pedaling” motion.
Muscles Worked: erector spinae, rectus abdominis, transversus abdominis.
- Lie prone with elbows close to sides, directly under shoulders, palms down and fingers facing forward.
- Engage quadriceps to extend legs and dorsiflex ankles.
- Engage core muscles to prepare torso.
- Lift body off mat, maintaining stiff torso and legs. Avoid arching lower back or hiking hips.
- Draw shoulders down and away from ears, positioning shoulders directly over elbows, palms facing each other.
Progression: Elevate alternate legs for a few seconds.
Regression: Perform from hands with arms extended and/or pivot from knees (not feet).