When you need to banish belly bloat this holiday season, bust out your yoga mat. Although naysayers dismiss yoga as “just stretching,” the truth is that yoga is a powerful total-body workout that increases flexibility, builds strength and sculpts some killer abs. (It takes some serious core strength to hold a headstand, after all).
Bathing suit season may be a thing of the past, but just because we’re beginning to pile on the outer layers (and pile on the Thanksgiving seconds) doesn’t mean we should disregard what lies beneath. Instead of hiding under big, chunky sweaters all winter long, flatten your abs with these core-slimming yoga moves from the book Flat Belly Yoga! by Kimberly Fowler. In no time, you’ll feel (and look) so good that you’ll want to reacquaint yourself with that sexy LBD you buried in your closet long ago.
Although squeezing your glutes might seem natural in this pose, try instead to focus on firing up your core. Squeezing your inner thighs together will help to send your hips higher and give your abs a better workout, while pressing your feet firmly into the earth will give you stability and additional lift.
- While lying on your back, bend your knees and separate your feet hip’s width distance. Reach your fingertips towards your heels; if they don’t connect, walk your feet in closer to your body until they touch. Grab your weights.
- Take a breath in, as you exhale press your feet into the mat and lift your hips high towards the ceiling. While your body lifts, raise your hand weights up and over your head, the tops of your hands finding the earth behind you. Hold this position for 5 seconds, focusing on squeezing your inner thighs together and simultaneously sending your hips to the sky, while pressing your core to your spine. For an extra challenge, extend each leg out in front of you, one at a time.
- Inhale to bring your arms back to their starting position by your hips, and lower your hips to the mat. Repeat 5 times.
- If the arm rotation with weights is too much, either ditch the weights or keep a simple bridge: clasp your hands under your hips, or leave them in the starting position by your sides with your palms facing up.
Boat pose is tough enough on its own, as it requires balance, strength and concentration, but adding weights to the pose amplifies the burn—and the results. Try it the first time without weights; if you feel ready for more, use light (3 – 5 pound) hand weights to light it up further.
- Start on your mat in an easy seated position with knees bent, feet on the floor, weights by your side.
- Zip up the lower belly and roll back slightly onto the sit bones, lifting the feet so that your lower legs are parallel with the mat. For an extra challenge, try extending your legs completely, bringing your body into a full V shape. Extend your arms straight out in front of you.
- While engaging your core, inhale as you lower both your upper and lower body to the mat, hovering just 5 inches above the floor. While you lower, cross your arms over your chest. Hold for one second, and then exhale as you extend your arms back out in front and lift your body back into a V shape using your core to pull you. Repeat 10 times, or as many times as you can in 30 seconds.
Chair Pose with Overhead Press
Chair pose may seem like a simple, easy squat, but when done correctly it engages every muscle in your body. The idea is to sit down low, but keep your arms and torso lifted; a powerful core is critical here.
- Standing at the front of your mat, bring your feet together so that your big toes touch and your heels are slightly separated, about 2 inches.
- Sink your hips back towards the floor, shifting your weight into your heels; check and make sure your knees stay behind your toes. Holding your hand weights, extend your arms out straight, bringing them up to your ears and squeezing your shoulder blades together down your back.
- Hold this pose for 45 seconds, zipping up your entire core, pulling in the lower belly and squeezing your inner thighs together the entire time; tighter is lighter here. If the pose becomes really difficult, return your focus to the breath: breathe through the burn!
Balancing poses can be tough, but if you forget to engage your abdomen, they can be close to impossible! This pose works your glutes, back, and abs, making it an ideal core-sculpting trifecta.
- Starting in either crescent lunge or warrior one, begin to shift your weight forward, into the front leg, and extend your arms straight out in front of you, holding your hand weights. You want your body to look like a capital T.
- Focus your gaze on one spot about 2 feet in front of you, pull your belly in, knitting your abs tightly together, and point your toes directly down to the mat, squaring your hips with the earth.
- If having your arms in front is too difficult, extend them back towards your hips, palms facing down, squeezing your shoulder blades together. You can also modify further by dropping the weights completely and just using your bodyweight for resistance.
- Hold for 30 seconds; then switch sides.
Although it’s actually a series of 4 different poses, the vinyasa flow is like the thread that runs through your yoga practice, connecting it all together. In an hour-long Vinyasa style class, you might go through your flow 20 times or more—talk about killer core work! Set your weights on the floor next to you; you won’t need them for this series of poses.
- High Plank –Place your hands on the mat directly underneath your shoulders so that your shoulders, elbows, and wrists are all in line. Separate your feet hip’s width distance with your legs extended straight behind you and your toes tucked under. Your body should look like it’s at the top of a pushup and should form one straight line, with your tailbone tucked and your belly pulled up and in.
- Low Plank (hover) – From high plank, exhale as you slowly lower your body 5 inches above the mat by bending your elbows, hugging them into your sides so they point directly behind you, and directing your gaze slightly forward. Keep your core zipped up tightly and it will prevent you from collapsing onto the mat.
- Upward Dog – Without allowing your belly to touch the floor, scoop your chest forward from low plank by straightening your arms, and fold your feet over so that the tops of your feet rest on the earth as you inhale. Try to rotate your inner thighs up and out, relax your glutes, squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you, and lift through both your feet and your hands to open up the front side of your body and stretch your abdomen.
- Downward Dog – From upward dog, turn your feet back over so that your toes are tucked, and exhale as you use your core muscles to pull your body into an inverted V shape. Keep your hands and feet at hip’s width distance, and spread your fingers wide to help evenly distribute the weight. Continue to pull your core in as you hold this pose for 30 seconds, reaching your heels towards the earth while sending your hips towards the ceiling.