Forget crunches — these 5 yoga exercises build a super strong core

a photo of a woman doing a bird dog exercise
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

A strong core is much more than just an aesthetic goal — it can help you run faster, lift heavier, sit with a better posture, and help protect your spine from injury. Yet when it comes to sculpting strong abs, not all exercises are created equal. According to Harvard Medical School, if you have tight hip flexors, crunches, and sit-ups can put a lot of pressure on your lower back. So instead of crunching, this trainer recommends adding these five yoga exercises to your ab routine. 

Trainer Rhiannon Bailey shares five yoga moves that target the transverse abdominals. In her description she writes, “if you suffer from lower back pain, do this!”. The yoga moves she recommends work the deep core muscles, which can, in turn, stabilize your core and support your lower back. Ready to get started? Unroll one of the best yoga mats and read on to find the five moves. 

As a reminder, if you’re new to exercise, or you’re returning to exercise following an injury, it’s a good idea to check your form with a personal trainer to ensure you’re not putting yourself at risk of any injury. If you suffer from lower back pain, check with a doctor before doing any of the exercises below. 

5 yoga exercises that will help sculpt your core 

For the workout, Bailey recommends you complete each exercise for 30 seconds, and do two/three rounds of the circuit.

Alternating arm and leg raise: Starting in tabletop position, with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips, extend one arm out in front of you, and the opposite leg out behind you. Pause here, before lowering both to the ground and repeating on the opposite side. As a pointer, Bailey writes, “ensure your arm and leg are in line with your spine.”

Single-side in and outs: Following the process as above, after extending your arm and leg out, bring them back underneath your body and touch your elbow to your knee. Keep going on the same side for 15 seconds, then swap. Bailey adds, “drive your opposite knee to your opposite elbow, curving from your spine.”

Single-side lateral lift: Following the alternating arm and leg raise, hold your extended arm and leg out, and move both laterally away from your body, before bringing them back out to the extended position. Keep going on one side for 15 seconds before switching sides. Bailey says, “lengthen through your arm and leg as you achieve a diagonal alignment.”

Bear walks: Start in a bear crawl position by getting into a tabletop position, engaging your core, raise your knees a few inches off the ground. Hold here, then step one leg out and then the other into a high plank, before stepping back into the bear crawl position. “Ensure your glutes stay in line with your spine when your feet are moving,” says Bailey. 

3-legged dog in and outs: For this exercise, start in a downward dog position and raise one leg up to the ceiling, so that you are in the three-legged dog position. Lower the leg, tucking it underneath your body, before raising it back up to the sky. “Lift your knee as high up towards your torso as possible in each position,” advises Bailey. 

The key to this workout is to move slowly and control, keeping your core engaged throughout the workout. “Draw your belly button up towards your spine,” says Bailey in the video caption. Luke Zocchi, Chris Hemsworth’s PT and Head Coach Head Trainer at Centr (read our Centr app review here) told Tom’s Guide, “you want to lengthen your spine to make your back straight, breathe in deeply into your rib cage, and draw in your belly button. The best way to engage this final step is to think about what your reaction would be if someone was going to hit you in the stomach."

As this is a yoga-style workout, it’s also important to follow your breath as you move. In the caption, Bailey explains, “inhale as you extend, exhale as you contract.” Similar to the type of breathing you’d do in a Pilates class, this helps you engage the correct muscles as you move.

Finally, as with all abdominal exercises, it’s important to avoid arching the lower back as you move. During the first four exercises, keep your legs and arms in line with your spine as you extend them to avoid putting the lower back under pressure. 

Looking for more workout inspiration? Here are the best ab exercises to add to your routine, plus the best 10-minute ab workouts for engaging your core.

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.