A Yoga Sequence to build Core and Lower Back Strength

This core and lower back yoga sequence is inspired by Week 1 of my 6-Week Yoga for Strength & Conditioning Course. This week’s practice is designed to strengthen and condition the abdominals, muscles of the lower back, glutes and hipflexors.
When we talk about ‘the core’ in yoga, in reality we’re talking about a lot more than just the muscles that make up the abdominals. From a therapeutic perspective when I work on a client’s core I also address the strength and condition of their back muscles, hip-flexors, glutes, pelvic floor and adductors. Essentially all the muscles that help to keep the hips, pelvis, and lower back stable and supported as we move our arms and legs about in everyday movements.
For a printable version of the sequence click here.

 

There are a few key components that help with developing and maintaining core stability. I will be discussing each of these points in more detail in later blog posts but for now:

1) Breathe using your diaphragm
 When you breathe in feel your lower, floating ribs expand outwards front-to-back and side-to-side. When you breathe out, feel the lower, floating ribs hug in towards the center of your body front-to-back and side-to-side.
2) Strengthen the Transverse Abdominis and Pelvic Floor
 To access the Transverse Abdominis which is the deepest layer of the abdominal core (and a key muscle in lower back stability and health particularly post-injury) each time you exhale, imagine you’re drawing the two frontal hip bones towards the belly button. This should have the action of drawing the naval gently back towards the spine and firming the lower belly.

To access the pelvic floor envisage a diamond-shaped muscle that lies right at the base of the pelvic bowel spanning from the pubic bone at the front, to the tailbone at the back and from the two sit-bones left-to-right. As you exhale, imagine you’re drawing these four points towards each other. This will have the action of drawing the pelvic floor muscles slightly in and up towards the abdominal cavity.

3) Correct forward head positioning 
It’s easiest to develop core stability and control when we have good postural habits. Many of us have the tendency to sit and stand with our heads to far forwards which can disrupt our spine and hip positioning. To correct this, stand against a wall with your heels about 1″ away from the wall and your buttocks and back against the wall. Draw your shoulder blades and the back of your head to rest against the wall so that your ears stack over your shoulders. Notice what it feels like to be situated on this plumb-line with the crown of the head directly over the heels.
4) Develop contralateral, cross mid-line movement (e.g. crawling, or in this sequence Balancing Table Pose and Locust Pose Variation One Leg and Arm)
Movements and poses that exercise muscles on opposite sides of the body from one another are a very effective to develop core stability as well as enhance balance and proprioception. These movements often mimic the more realistic day-to-day movements we make throughout our day making them ideal functional exercises to incorporate into a yoga practice.
A couple of practice pointers for the sequence below:

– This sequence is designed for students who are injury-free and who are not pregnant. If you have lower back pain or injury some of the movements in this sequence may not be suitable.

 
– Make sure that you breathe deeply and evenly throughout the sequence. Come out of the pose if you feel any pain or if you find that you are holding your breath.

 

– The poses can be practiced with a combination of fluid movements and longer holds. For a stronger sequence stronger hold the more challenging poses for up to 5 breaths before transitioning to the next pose. You can also repeat more challenging movements or poses a number of times through for more intensity.

 

– There are several progressive options in this practice – start with the easiest version of the pose first and progress to the version that leaves you comfortably challenged whilst maintaining smooth, even breathing. For example start with knees down in your plank position until you feel strong and stable enough to explore lifting the knees for full plank.

 

– For best results, practice this sequence 2-3 times a week and remember building strength takes time, so be patient and above all enjoy the journey of exploring your body one yoga practice at a time.

 

 

Hope you enjoy and feel free to leave feedback/comments below. Stay tuned for next week’s sequence where we focus on glute and hip strength. 😀
 
Thanks to Tummee for the amazing sequencing software!

A Yoga Sequence to Build Lower Body Strength

As yoga continues to gain popularity, many of us are exploring ways in which we can use the practice to address musculo-skeletal imbalance, chronic tension and even prevention or rehabilitation of an injury. When a client comes to me with a musculo-skeletal issue such as lower back pain, as a yoga therapist I will often explore a variety of factors – their physiology, lifestyle factors that may be contributing to the problem and even their mental and emotional state. From a physical perspective, at a fairly simplistic level there are two main questions I ask when addressing an injury.

 

  • What muscles are tight or shortened, tense and overworking?
  • What muscles are weak, overstretched, underworking or inactive?

 

Yoga has the capacity to not only address tight tissues through dynamic movements and sustained stretches but also strength, stamina and stability in the weakened tissues. In order to build strength in yoga we need to consider three simple factors:

 

1. Choose simple poses – think poses such as locust, bridge, forearm plank, handstand against the wall. Oftentimes the best strengthening poses are relatively simple in form but deliver the biggest bang for their buck.

 

2. Practice with skill, precision and good alignment – this will ensure that you are getting the truly intended benefits of the pose. Consider what muscles you are trying to access and ensure these muscles are engaging as you practice the pose e.g. in chair pose can you feel your glutes firing? If not, consider how you might improve the alignment to make that happen, for example, shifting your weight further back into your heels.

 

3. Repeat frequently – building strength and stamina is often about repeating simple motions or postures again and again until you feel a pleasant level of fatigue in the target muscles. This will enhance stamina, endurance and tone in the muscles.

 

When it comes to muculo-skeletal issues in the lower body our sedentary lifestyles are causing great imbalances and weakness, leading to what is often referred to in personal training circles as the Lower Cross Syndrome. Sitting for long periods of time manifests as weak glutes and abdominals, and tight (but also often weak) hamstrings and hipflexors. The following Lower Body Strength Yoga Sequence is designed to strengthen and stabilise the hips with poses targeting the glutes, hamstrings, quads and hip-flexors. I have found a sequence that works on building strength in the glutes to be particularly helpful for clients who are struggling with lower back pain or knee problems.

 

For a printable version of the sequence please click here. Thanks to Tummee for the yoga sequence builder software!

 

A Yoga Sequence to Build Upper Body Strength

I’ve dabbled with weight training for a number of years but I’ll be honest if I had a choice between a weight-training session or yoga, yoga would win every time. That said, I do think strength training is a key part of maintaining a healthy, happily functioning body and whether I’m working with private clients or teaching group classes, strength and conditioning work is a major theme in my teaching.

 

One of the things I see as a yoga teacher are the consequences of weakness in the body which can lead to musculo-skeletal imbalances, chronic tension and pain. We are so sedentary these days that the major muscles of the spine, hips and abdominals tend to weaken and atrophy leading to lower back problems, neck and shoulder tension and gait issues.

 

It’s at this point that we might be tempted to practice yoga, but if we’re not bringing strength and conditioning work into our practice we might very well end up exacerbating or at best ignoring the very weaknesses that we bring to the mat. Combine this with our current obsession with images of extreme flexibility and range of movement, and we run the risk of doing ourselves more harm than good. Make no mistake, big ranges of motion require a corresponding level of strength in order to keep your joints healthy and to avoid injury.

 

I’d like to share with you a simple yoga sequence for building more upper body strength, particularly in the shoulders, upper back, lower back and abdominals. I’ll be teaching many of these poses in my upcoming September 6-week Yoga for Strength & Conditioning Course.

 

For a printable version of the sequence please click here. Enjoy and be sure to breathe! 🙂

 

Thanks to Tummee for the amazing yoga sequence builder!

 

 

 

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