Even yogis love elbow planks, but we call them something else. An elbow plank by any other name will still work your abs.
From Downward Facing Dog, inhale and shift your weight forward coming into plank position (top of a push-up). Exhale as you lower onto your forearms so that your shoulders are stacked directly above your elbows and your body is parallel with the floor.
Dolphin Plank is an intense pose, so if you can’t hold for five breaths, lower one or both knees to the floor.
2. Intense East
Do you know by just simply facing your belly up to the sky can help work on your abs too? Pulling your low abs up and in while arching your spine makes this pose feel easier.
From a seated position with your legs extended straight out in front of you, place your hands behind your hips about six to eight inches, with your fingers pointing toward your toes. As you inhale, press into your hands and feet firmly, lifting your hips into the air. Lift them as high as you can so your spine is in a long line. Slowly release your head back, looking behind you, and open through your throat.
Stay here in Intense East pose for five deep breaths, then lower your hips to the floor.
Stand on your shins with your knees hips-width distance apart.
Lean back, and place your hands on your heels, arching back and allowing the head to fall between the shoulder blades.
Continue to press the hips forward to engage the abs, thighs, and tush, enjoying this pose for five breaths.
4. Warrior 3
Balancing on one leg really challenges your core! If you’re not using your abs to stabilize in this pose, you’ll likely tip over. Here’s how to find your inner warrior.
Stand with your feet together. Inhale as you extend your arms out wide in T position or straight overhead for a more advanced variation.
Exhale as you bend forward at your hips, lifting your right leg straight behind you coming into Warrior 3. Draw your navel toward your spine, and hold for five breaths. Then come to stand, lower your right leg, and repeat with the left leg lifted for another five.
This pose is similar to a side plank but in a more balanced way that trains up both your core and arms. Your obliques will certainly feel the challenge while you balance in this starry pose.
Begin in Downward Facing Dog, and step both feet together. Move your right hand to the left about six inches so it’s at the upper center of your mat. Step your right foot forward two inches, and plant the sole of your right foot firmly on the mat, so your toes are pointing away from you. Inhale as you roll open to your right side, and lift your left hand off the mat. Raise your left leg up into the air.
Gaze at your lifted hand, and hold Balancing Star for five breaths. Keeping your core engaged will help you stay balanced. Repeat this pose on the other side.
Boat pose is the go-to move for abs in yoga. It really challenges all four layers of your abdominals, similar to the Balance Point in Pilates. Get ready for some smooth sailing.
Sit on the floor with your legs in front of you. Bend your knees, and lift your legs off the floor, bringing your knees in toward your chest with your shins parallel to the floor. Sit up as tall as you can, and take a breath in as you slowly begin to straighten your legs. Your legs don’t need to be straight since the action of keeping your spine long and drawing your belly in is what works your abs here.
Hold Boat pose for five breaths.
Do you know that a crow requires core strength more than arm?It’s really about your core! Thinking of this as an ab exercise can help you hone in on the balance needed to maintain this pose.
Begin in a squat, placing your hands shoulder-width distance apart on the mat. Spread your fingers as wide as you can, creating a strong, stable base. Straighten your legs slightly, placing your knees as high up onto your triceps (back of your arms) as possible. Slowly shift weight into your palms and lift your feet off the ground.
Stay here for five breaths gazing at the floor in front of you.
When we fall into a workout routine, our moves become automatic, and the body quickly adapts. This is called muscle memory. While teaching your body how to properly execute squats, push-ups, or crunches is a benefit, overly relying on these moves to consistently grow gains won’t yield the kind of results you want. That’s because the muscles work in the same way every time.
Simply put, they’re not being “surprised,” so they get lazy.
Supplementing your routine with flow yoga is one way of surprising your muscles, especially if you are new to the yoga practice and have never tried the postures. It’s like taking a new road home when you drive, deviating from your usual route. Science has found that by doing so, you’re creating new neuropathways in your brain. The same is done in your muscles when you try a new routine.
How Flow Yoga Boost Your Gains in Your Workout Routine
Think about your current workouts:
If you lift weights, you rely on external tools to engage your various muscle groups. Over time, your shoulders, legs, or biceps will come to expect the weighted plates or dumbbells, in the repetitive sequences that you remember.
In flow yoga, we use the body as the weight. Add gravity and hundreds of different postures and combinations, and you have a workout that uses the same muscle groups, but in many different ways.
A pose such as plank is a full-body workout, with every muscle engaged to keep the body in one long line. While it’s a stationary pose, it requires muscle control and activation, with no room for passivity.
A Flow sequence, on the other hand, requires your muscle to switch from one pose to another swiftly, providing you with a more balanced and wholesome use of your major muscle groups.
Not only do these poses and routines re-energize the body in a refreshing way, they also allow you to learn something new, which is powerful for the mind.
Bottom line? Complementing your exercise regimen with flow yoga is like hitting the shuffle button on your workouts, using your muscles in ways that “surprise” them, which in turn boost their growth and performance.
Energizing Flow Yoga with Added Cardio
Flow yoga is also known as “Vinyasa.” In Sanskrit – the sacred language of the practice and its Indian roots – Vinyasa is roughly translated to “one breath, one movement.”
This guideline, first and foremost, enhances your breathing, and teaches you how to go from our typical shallow, chest-only breathing, to a more deeper, belly-chest breath that uses the entire lung system.
Not only is this beneficial for a myriad of healthcare reasons (combat allergies, eliminate toxins, reduce stress, ease anxiety), it also greatly impacts our muscles, and therefore our workout.
Flooding your muscles with rich oxygen will only keep them healthy, while the cardio benefit will get you warmed up to take on the more challenging postures in a flow yoga class. This prevents injuries and cramping.
The best example of energizing cardio in flow yoga is the Sun Salutation sequence. Each pose is completed on an inhale or an exhale, until the sequence is finished. One full sequence may be repeated several times, encouraging you to take fuller and deeper breaths. The cycles warm up and loosen the body and prepare the muscles for stationary poses that are held longer.
Here’s how to do a Sun Salutation Flow:
Due to the Sun Salutations, the muscles are not thrown into a challenging workout, but rather primed and prepared with energizing breath.
Why is this important, you ask? Because happy muscles are warmed-up muscles.
The Best Thing About Flow Yoga
The best thing about practicing flow yoga? You’re building strength and flexibility.
Strength and flexibility are like the Mecca of a wholesome workout routine. Before we get into why this is important, let’s break these two down individually to see how they stand up on their own:
Meet Strong Stan
Strong Stan is at the gym, doing bicep curls with massive dumbbells. His muscles have peaked in size, and he proudly displays them.
While he loves to lift weights, Strong Stan often skips stretching or warm-ups. He just doesn’t see how that could help him continue his muscle gains, so he jumps right into a heavy workout.
While it’s not evident to a passerby, Stan’s muscles are hurting. Without sufficient flexibility or deliberate stretching, Stan’s muscles are shortening and getting tighter. This eventually leads to joint injuries, because un-stretched muscles have limited range of motion.
Big muscles are a sure indicator of strength, but here’s the kicker – choosing not to prioritize flexibility will keep them inherently at risk.
Meet Flexible Fiona
Flexible Fiona is in a flow yoga class, easing herself into a backbend. She effortlessly gets into the pose, and “hangs” out there for a few breaths while the teacher cues the class.
Even though the teacher instructs the students to engage their glutes and be mindful that this is an active pose, Flexible Fiona opts otherwise, and relaxes into the posture by sacrificing the strength she ought to be building.
To many in the class, Fiona’s execution of the backbend would be a success – maybe even something to envy. However, what Fiona doesn’t realize is that her excessive flexibility is actually a detriment to her joints.
Flexibility has been defined as the “absolute range of motion” by Tony Gummerson, Martial Arts instructor. For people who are naturally flexible, that line of absolute range is often blurry and, in practice, overlooked.
It’s very easy for Fiona to go above and beyond her range of motion, since her flexibility parameters are much wider than what Strong Stan may experience in a similar pose.
Because she doesn’t feel the stretch in the same degree of motion as other students in class, Fiona has to push the envelope of her flexibility. This puts too much pressure on the joints that are already overworked, and it overstretches the muscles that are now prone to tearing.
Your goal is to create muscle and joint balance and wholeness.
What Strong Stan and Flexible Fiona have in common is that they’re both missing vital pieces of muscle awareness.
In Stan’s case, heavy and tight muscles crave flexibility. Without it, not only would Stan hit a plateau in his gains because of a sure injury, but he would miss out on having the lean and toned muscles that we all want to have.
In Fiona’s case, her overstretched muscles are not getting a workout at all. Rather, her excessive flexibility is resting on her joints, which leads to definite injury.
So what can you do? It’s quite simple.
You have to give your muscles the opposite of what they’re used to.
If you’re a Stan and hate stretching, focusing on your flexibility is key. You will lengthen your tight muscles, and you’ll create new muscle memory by practicing routines that are new to you and your muscle groups.
If you’re a Fiona and hate strengthening, focusing on this priority is vital. Your muscles are used to being passive as you stretch, so shaking up the usual and putting them to work will not only keep you injury-free, but that much closer to the muscle gains you’ve been looking for.
Fortunately, flow yoga is the whole package, and can be the one-stop-shop for both Stan and Fiona.
If you’re serious about using flow yoga to supplement your workout routine to boost gains, sign up for a class at your local gym or yoga studio. There are a number of styles of yoga to try, but as we’ve discussed in this article, the Vinyasa style is your best bet to complement a moderate exercise regimen.
Many studios offer beginner-style Vinyasa classes, where the instructor will explain the basics, and break down the sequences in a pace that is suitable for entry-level students. From here, the student can build upon their practice, and opt for more challenging, fast-paced classes, such as Power Flow or Ashtanga.
Working out is a lesson in teaching your muscles. The gains that we grow are the result of that experience, and it all comes down to conditioning our body in a way that is healthy, efficient, and balanced.
With a practice like flow yoga, we can offer supplemental training to our current regimen that will work our muscles in ways that are new, refreshing, and “surprising.” This method will keep our muscles toned and lean, as long as we prioritize the balance between strength and flexibility to ensure that we’re meeting both of these needs. Our muscle gains and body health depend on it.