Strong core muscles — which include your abs — are both a necessity for and a byproduct of a regular yoga practice. And although almost any yoga pose will help strengthen your abs, some poses are more effective than others.
Not sure where to start? Livestrong teamed up with yoga teacher Elise Joan to bring you a core-shredding yoga series that will strengthen your abs, as well as your back and hip flexors. Read on for the best yoga poses for your abs.
1. Plank Pose (Phalakasana)
- Start on all fours with your hands beneath your shoulders and your knees beneath your hips.
- Curl your toes under and lift your knees off the mat to come into one straight line from your heels to your head.
- Tuck your pelvis under slightly and puff up between your shoulder blades. Don't let your hips sag; they should stay at the same level as your shoulders.
- Draw your belly button in toward your spine to engage your abdomen. Hold the pose for five to 10 slow, deep breaths.
Make it easier: Leave your knees on the mat. Just make sure to keep your core contracted and hips in the same plane as your back.
2. Side Plank Pose (Vasisthasana)
- From plank position, shift to one side and put on your weight onto your right or left hand.
- Stack your top foot on your bottom foot, lifting your top hip up toward the ceiling and drawing your belly button in to contract your abs. Ensure that your bottom hand is aligned under your shoulder, top hand reaching toward the ceiling.
- Hold the position for five to 10 deep breaths, then switch sides.
Make it easier: Take some weight off side plank by keeping your knees on the ground. Come down onto your forearm, aligning your elbow under your shoulder. Then, bend both knees and stack them. Contract your core muscles and lift up, maintaining a straight line from your top knee to your shoulders.
3. Knee-to-Arm Plank
- Establish a solid plank position.
- Draw your right knee up to your right arm by exhaling and contracting your abdominals. If you can only get the knee to your elbow or just below your elbow, start there.
- Inhale as you straighten your right leg, bringing the foot back to the starting position.
- Exhale as you contract your abs, bringing your left knee toward your left upper arm or elbow.
- Inhale as you return to the starting position.
- Be sure to maintain the straight spine of your plank pose throughout the movement.
Make it easier: Get on all fours, with your wrists aligned under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Extend your right leg out, then bend at the knee and draw it in as close your right elbow as you can. Re-extend the leg, then place the knee on the mat. Do the same move on the other side.
4. Boat Pose (Navasana)
- Sit tall on your mat with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor.
- Extend your arms out in front of you and raise your feet until your lower legs are parallel to the mat.
- Lean your torso back to about a 45-degree angle.
- Draw the crown of your head up and lengthen through the spine; do not let your back round. Focus on maintaining a strong core.
- If this feels easy, begin to straighten your legs so that your body forms a V shape.
- Hold the pose for five to 10 deep breaths.
Make it easier: Don't sweat it if you're not quite there yet. Just lean back on your forearms, keeping your core contracted and spine straight, and lift your legs with bent knees as high as you can.
5. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Lie on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor about hip-distance apart.
- Draw your feet in close enough to your hips that you can reach your heels with your fingertips.
- Press your palms into the mat next to your hips and, on an exhale, raise your hips up until they form a diagonal line from your knees to your shoulders.
- If your flexibility allows, lift your hips higher so your thighs are almost parallel to the ground.
- Keep your feet underneath your knees and parallel to each other. Avoid clenching your glutes to prevent undue strain on your lower back.
- Hold for five to 10 breaths.
Make it easier: Try a restorative version of bridge pose. Lie back with your legs extended and position one block at its lower height horizontally just below your shoulder blades. Then, place a second block standing vertically to support the back of your head. Extend your arms alongside your body with your palms face up and relax for three to five minutes.
Read more: 5 Yoga Poses to Tone Your Booty
6. Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
- Lie on your stomach with your forehead on the mat and your arms extended alongside you, palms facing down.
- Contract all the muscles of your arms, legs and core to lift your head, chest and arms off the mat.
- Lifting your legs off the mat, rotate your inner thighs down toward the floor and avoid clenching your buttocks.
- Keep your neck long and continue breathing as best you can for five to 10 slow deep breaths, attempting to lift everything a little bit higher with each breath.
Make it easier: You can work up to this pose by doing low cobra. Place your palms under your shoulders and lift your chest a few inches off the ground, using the strength of your lower back. You can also do locust pose lifting just the upper body or just the lower body at one time.
7. Cat/Cow Pose (Marjaryasana/Bitilasana)
- Begin on your hands and knees, also known as a tabletop position.
- As you exhale, pull your belly button in toward your spine and arch your back up like a cat.
- Inhale and reverse the position, lifting your head and tailbone and dropping your belly down toward the mat.
- Continue to alternate between cat and cow pose for 10 slow, deep breaths.
8. Upward Plank Pose (Purvottanasana)
- Sit on your bottom and straighten your spine.
- Bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor a short distance from your hips.
- Place your hands on the mat six to eight inches behind you, slightly wider than your hips and turn your palms so that your fingers are pointing toward you. (If this is too much for your shoulders, turn your palms halfway so your fingers point out away from your body.)
- On an exhale, press your feet in to the mat and lift your hips until your thighs are parallel with the floor and your hips form a straight line from your knees to your shoulders. Avoid crunching your neck.
- Hold the pose for five to 10 full breaths.
Make it easier: You can work up to this pose by bending your knees and placing your feet flat on the floor. Then, lift your hips toward the ceiling as high as you can.
9. Revolved Chair Pose (Parivrtta Utkatasana)
- Stand tall with your feet together, spine erect and your hands by your side.
- Bend your knees and send your hips back, transferring your weight into your heels.
- Draw your lower belly in and slightly tuck your pelvis.
- Inhale and raise your arms up toward the ceiling. Hold here for five deep breaths, then draw your palms together in the center of your chest in prayer pose.
- Exhale, twisting to the right and clasping your left elbow outside your right knee. Keep your knees in line with each other, twisting through your torso.
- Hold for five breaths, then inhale back to center and exhale to the other side.
Make it easier: Come into a lunge position with your right foot forward. Drop your back knee to the floor, place your hands in prayer in the center of your chest, then twist to the right. Place your bottom elbow outside your right knee if you can. Come back to center, switch your feet and rotate to the left.
10. Extended Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana)
- From mountain pose, take a big step out to the right, landing your right foot about three to four feet behind your left foot.
- Open your body out to the side extending your arms perpendicular to the floor, and turn your right foot out 90 degrees. Align your right heel with the heel of your left foot.
- Exhale as you extend your right arm out and down, tilting your torso from the hip joint until your right hand lands on your shin or ankle.
- Extend through the crown of your head and lengthen both sides of your torso equally.
- Hold the pose for five to 10 breaths, then switch sides.
Make it easier: If you can't reach your shin or ankle, no problem. Just place your hand on your thigh (not on your knee). Or, stack some yoga blocks just inside your front foot and place your hand on them for support.