Yoga tends to get a bad reputation because people think it’s all about shit like finding your breath and inhaling good vibes. While many types of traditional yoga practices are based on mindfulness and spiritual mantras, yoga is also a killer ab workout if you’re doing it right. These poses are legit and offer a ton of core strength. I mean, there’s a reason you can’t hold them for long before collapsing onto your mat. Start with these six moves if you want to strengthen your core and tone your abs without doing any bullshit crunches.
1. Boat Pose
Boat pose is amazing for your entire core because it works the muscles in your upper and lower abs at the same time. Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight in front of you. Then, press your hands on the floor behind your hips and lift your legs off the floor, leaning back slightly and lifting your hands in front of you. Your tailbone should now be on the ground with your legs and arms forward in the same direction. You can either hold it there for maximum time, or hold it for a few beats, release, and then repeat for reps (10-12 should do it).
Feel free to bend your knees at first if you’re not able to extend them fully.
2. Warrior Three
It might sound weird to do an ab exercise while standing up, but the whole point of the warrior three is to mess with your balance by standing on one foot, and then stabilize yourself using your core. Start standing up with your feet hip-distance apart and your arms at your sides. Then, turn to your left and step your feet wide, bending your right knee over your right ankle. Then, press your weight into your right foot and lift your left leg out behind you while your arms extend out in front of you. If it feels wobbly or awkward to be on one foot, that’s the point. Engage your abs and squeeze tight to stabilize yourself for as long as you can—at least 30 seconds before switching legs. If you’re feeling really saucy, throw in some one-legged squats with the supporting leg.
Keeping your arms in tight is a (slightly) easier modification.
3. Side Plank
Side planks are super basic, but there’s a reason you do them in every yoga, pilates, and bootcamp class: they do the trick. The idea of the side plank is to stack your feet on one side of you while your forearm is on the ground and your hips are lifted. You want to engage your oblique muscles, which are the sides of your abs that give your tummy that toned shape when you wear a crop top. Hold the pose on each side of your body for 30 seconds and remember to keep your hips square and lifted the whole time. The other option is to support yourself with a fully-extended arm, which takes a little heat off your abs but adds an additional balance component—so, still good for your core.
Stacking your feet is standard, but staggering them like this is a less-difficult modifier.
4. Chair Pose
Chair pose tends to feel like a leg workout (and it def is), but if you’re doing it right and taking your time, you can majorly feel this in your core too and it’s great for your abs. Standing hip-distance apart with your arms straight over your head, sit down into a mini squat without moving your arms at all. Bring your hips as low as you can and engage your core muscles so that you don’t lean too far forward. Take deep breaths and hold the pose for a minute if you can. If you feel it more in your back than your abs, it’s ok—no one will know that you had temporary amnesisa and forgot that the core means more than just your abs.
Keep your weight in your heels, even lifting your toes to remind yourself if need be.
5. One-Legged Downward Dog
Most people think downward dog is just a stretch for your calves and shoulders, but by adding a variation of standing on one leg, you need to work to stabilize your body by engaging your abs. Starting on your hands and knees, stretch your elbows and relax your upper back. Put your hands down on the mat and tuck your toes, lifting your knees off the floor. Press the floor away from you as you lift your butt toward the ceiling, and then lift one leg off the floor, keeping tension in your abs the whole time. Hold for 30 seconds on one leg and then switch to the other. Ideally you get your leg up and in-line with your body, but baby steps.
The more you practice, the higher you’ll be able to reach.
6. Elevated Plank
Planks are basic af and sound boring, but by elevating your feet onto a higher surface, (like a yoga block or a bench) you can get a deeper burn in your abs and really engage all your muscles at once. You can also use a bosu ball or a medicine ball if you really know what you’re doing and want the extra challenge. The idea is to have your feet elevated behind you and your body in one straight line. Try to think about pulling your belly button toward your spine and slightly lifting your butt, making sure your spine stays straight the entire time. The burn will kick in pretty quickly but that just means you’re doing it right, so stop whining. Start with 30 seconds and work up to a minute+.
Just like with side planks, dropping to your forearms puts more stress on your abs, but is also more stable.