Yoga is rapidly gaining in popularity due to its numerous health benefits, including stress relief, improved flexibility, and muscle toning. While some might argue that yoga can’t possibly provide enough of a challenge to develop a six-pack, most of those posing the argument probably haven’t attempted yoga.
The Yoga Six Pack: 13 Routines to Strengthen Your Abs
- Plank Pose
- Twisting Boat Pose
- Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
- Star Plank (Vasisthasana)
- Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
- Warrior III Pose (Virabhadrasana III)
- Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
- Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
- Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
- Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
- Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
- Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
- Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
Just because you practice yoga doesn’t mean you can’t have six pack abs. Yoga actually requires a very strong core, and there are plenty of poses which can help you target your abdominal section and feel stronger and healthier. If you’re looking to tighten and tone your abdominal muscles, read on to find our favorite yoga poses to target this troublesome area.
Can Yoga Give You a Six Pack?
Yoga requires a significant amount of core body strength, which means many of the poses will stretch and strain your abdominal muscles and strengthen them. However, just like how doing a hundred crunches a day but changing no other aspect of your life won’t give you a six pack, simply practicing yoga does not guarantee a six pack set of abs. It often requires a more all encompassing lifestyle approach.
A benefit to yoga is the wide variety of poses will target multiple different abdominal muscles, meaning the right yoga routine can work the muscles of your core from multiple different angles. However, if there is a layer of abdominal fat covering the muscles, you can have a particularly strong core but still not show a defined six pack.
To remove extra padding that might be hiding your blossoming six pack, you might need to add a little bit extra to your standard yoga routine. One of the most frequently recommended ways of shedding fat overall is to incorporate some cardiovascular exercise into your routine. Cardiovascular exercise is anything that gets your heart rate and breathing rate up, such as running, swimming laps, or biking.
In addition to working out regularly, it can also be helpful to practice a healthy, mindful diet. If you don’t give your body the appropriate fuel to form muscles, then you will be less likely to develop them. This means you should be conscious of your diet and try to eliminate large quantities of high fat and high sugar foods. Opt for healthy options with a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and a little bit of healthy fat.
1. Plank Pose
Even if you don’t practice yoga, you might recognize the plank pose from other workout routines. While it isn’t strictly a yoga pose, it has been adopted into many routines. Few moves better target all the muscles in your core at once, so even non-yogis who are looking to gain a six pack will work this pose into their exercise routine.
To execute the plank pose, start by laying on your belly with your wrists directly under your shoulders. Straighten your arms and come onto the balls of your feet, so only your hands and feet are in contact with the ground. Tuck your tailbone downward but don’t allow your hips to sag, as this will make the pose much easier and you won’t target all the abdominal muscles.
It is important to engage the muscles in your legs while you hold the pose, as well, in order to work your entire core. Don’t allow your hips to creep upwards, and concentrate on keeping your body in a completely straight line from shoulders to feet, as if you are preparing to perform a push up. The longer you hold this pose, the more you will engage your core muscles. But don’t forget to breathe!
2. Twisting Boat Pose
The boat pose (Navasana) is already a great exercise for strengthening abdominal muscles, but adding a twist helps give the pose even more core strengthening ability and involves your obliques.
To strike a standard boat pose, sit down on the mat with your legs bent in front of you and feet flat on the ground. Lean back slightly and bring your legs up off the floor, being sure to keep your shins parallel to the ground. Straightening your legs, raise your upper body so that your body forms a V-shape, with your torso forming one leg of the V and your thighs forming the other. Hold your arms straight by your thighs.
Stretch your arms straight out in front of you and hold for a breath for the standard boat pose. To execute the twisting boat pose, simply rotate to face one side, stretching your arms wide. This will also help engage your shoulders while working your core. Hold for another breath and then return to regular boat pose before switching to perform on the opposite side. Repeat this rotation several times.
3. Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
The dolphin pose is great for giving you a core workout while also targeting the shoulders and stretching the spine. This pose is a little more advanced than the plank pose, and requires careful attention to posture and form in order to get the full effect.
The dolphin pose is basically like doing the downward facing dog pose but on your forearms. If starting from the plank pose, bring your elbow to the mat so it is in a straight line with your wrist and your entire forearm rests on the mat. Your elbows should be directly under your shoulders, just like they were for the plank pose. Raise your hips up to the sky while keeping your legs as straight as possible.
If you’re looking for a more intense core workout from the dolphin pose, you can modify the pose and add a leg lift. Simply walk your feet slightly closer to your body to the point where you either can rest your heels flat on the ground or almost rest your heels on the ground while still keeping your legs straight. Raise one of your legs as high as you can, trying to keep it as straight as possible and making a straight line from toe to head.
Be sure to keep your head relaxed between your shoulders and don’t try to tilt your head up or tuck it to your chest. This will put unwanted strain on your neck and shoulders and might result in injury. If done properly, the dolphin pose with a leg raise will look like a lambda symbol when the body is viewed from the side. Remember to alternate which leg you are lifting.
4. Star Plank (Vasisthasana)
If you are really looking to engage your abdominal muscles and push yourself, look no further than the star plank. This variation of a side plank pose will definitely make your muscles shake a little, even if you’re already quite fit.
The star plank pose specifically targets your obliques, which are the muscles that run along the side of your midsection and most often are where we see “love handles” or “saddlebags” if we are a little out of shape. This move requires you to stabilize your entire body, which might sound a lot easier than it is, and it gives your core a great workout that can lead to a six pack in no time.
To make the star plank pose, start in the basic plank pose described above. Keeping one hand and foot on the ground, turn yourself so your legs stack on top of each other and your top shoulder turns up to the sky. Raise your top arm straight up above your head, as if you are holding your arms wide to hug someone. Then, lift your top leg slowly as high as you can.
If the full star plank is too difficult, feel free to remain in a side plank pose simply by keeping your legs together rather than lifting your top leg. Regardless of which plank you are executing, remember to keep your body in as straight of a line as possible from head to foot and don’t allow your hips to sag or peak.
5. Chair Pose (Utkatasana)
To the casual observer, the chair pose may not look that challenging. How difficult could it be to act like you are sitting in a chair? The truth is that the chair pose not only engages your core muscles, but it also requires a significant amount of leg and shoulder strength. It is a great pose for targeting many important muscle groups at the same time.
From a standing position, bend your knees and drop your butt towards the ground so your thighs become parallel to the ground, forming a ninety degree angle at your knee between your calves and thighs. If it helps, imagine you are lowering yourself to sit on a box that is just slightly below the height of your knees. Keep your back straight and don’t let your hips push forward.
Raise your arms straight above your head, keeping your head in line between your biceps. Try to imagine forming a straight line from the tips of your fingers all the way to your tailbone.
The trick to making certain the chair pose truly engages your abdominal muscles is to make sure you don’t let your back arch and your stomach push forward. Make a conscious effort to tuck your stomach back towards your spine and keep your back straight.
6. Warrior III Pose (Virabhadrasana III)
If you are new to yoga, the warrior III pose can be fairly intimidating. It requires not only a certain amount of stability, coordination, and concentration, but it also is a fantastic workout for the entire body. It specifically targets and tones the abdominal muscles while also strengthening the legs, shoulders, and back. If you’ve tried the other poses on this list and are looking for a challenge, look no further than the warrior III pose.
To achieve the warrior III pose, begin in a standing position with your feet shoulder width apart, arms at your sides. Spread your legs wide. Rotate your back foot, the right foot, ninety degrees so your toes point to your right. Rotate your left foot in the same direction about forty-five degrees. Turn your hips and shoulders to the right, following the direction of your right foot.
Slowly bend your right leg so that your knee is directly above your ankle, with your shin perpendicular to the floor. Raise your arms straight above your head. Shift your weight onto your right foot and raise your left leg. Tilt your torso forward as you raise your leg, trying to keep your body in a straight line from your hands to your left foot.
Try to keep your torso, arms, and raised leg parallel to the floor. Ideally, you will straighten your right leg to a standing position. If you are having trouble maintaining balance or it is too difficult to start, try lowering the raised leg slightly. You can also grab onto a wall or chair in front of you to try to help balance. Try to eventually work yourself out of the dependence upon a balance aid in order to truly engage all your muscles.
While holding the warrior III pose, don’t forget to breathe and focus on drawing your stomach up towards your spine, rather than letting it push out beneath you. This will engage your core muscles much more and help you achieve more toned abdominal muscles.
7. Bow Pose (Dhanurasana)
The bow pose requires a bit of flexibility. The body stretches to achieve a shape resembling the bow of an archer, with the arms being the string and the rest of the body forming the bow. It not only is a good pose for improving overall flexibility, but it engages core muscles and can help you achieve better posture. Posture is related to a strong core, so if your core muscles are trained you are likely to have a healthier posture.
If you want to try the bow pose, start by laying flat on your belly with your arms at your side, palms facing upward. With an exhalation, bend your knees and bring the heels of your feet as close as possible to your bum. Reach back and grab your ankles. If you cannot reach your ankles, don’t attempt to grab the top of your foot. Instead, continue to practice until you have the flexibility needed to reach your ankles.
With your ankles in hand, keep your knees no wider than your hip width. With another exhalation, lift your ankles up towards the ceiling while also lifting your thighs up from the floor. Try not to tense the muscles in your back, but tuck your tailbone towards the floor. As you lift your feet, allow your arms to follow, bringing your shoulder blades together. Your chest should feel open and wide. Lift your head to focus in front of you.
Try to hold this pose for thirty seconds. The bow pose can make breathing difficult, so it is critical, as with when executing any yoga pose, to continue to breathe and focus on maintaining a steady breath. If you are having difficulty, aim for holding the pose for shorter periods and rest a few breaths between attempts.
8. Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
The downward facing dog pose requires a little less flexibility than to bow pose, but it still engages your core muscles and it is a great pose for anyone looking to try to define his or her abdominal muscles. It is one of the most known yoga poses, perhaps because of its all around health benefits.
To perform the downward facing dog pose, start on the floor on your hands and knees. Move your hands to be shoulder width apart but slightly ahead of your shoulders, closer to your head. Your knees should be directly beneath your hips.
Lift your knees from the floor and slowly bring your tailbone up towards the sky, bringing your heels close to the floor. Slowly stretch your legs by pushing your thighs up toward the sky and bringing your heels down so your feet rest flat on the floor. Try to keep your legs straight but be sure not to lock your knees. Locking your knees can cause you to pass out.
Keep your arms engaged and press your palms into the floor. Try to keep your arms straight and in alignment with the angle created by your torso tilting at your hips. Instead of letting your head hang, hold it slightly up, between your upper arms. To make sure your core is being actively engaged, remember to concentrate on pulling your belly button up towards your spine but not arching your back in the process.
9. Four Limbed Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana)
Basically a modification of a plank pose, the four limbed staff pose can immediately target your core muscles and help you achieve stronger abdominal muscles.
Start in a plank pose, as described above. Breathe out and slowly lower your upper body to be only a few inches above the floor, still keeping parallel to the ground. Don’t let your hips peak or your back arch to let your stomach hang. Concentrate on pulling your stomach toward your spine and keeping your core actively engaged.
Your arms should be bent and held at your sides, with the elbows pushing back towards your feet and not opening out to the sides. Ideally, your elbow will form a ninety degree angle between your forearm and biceps, with your forearms perpendicular to the floor and biceps parallel to the ground. Keep your head up, looking slightly ahead.
Hold this pose for at least ten seconds, more if you want a harder workout. If you want an extra challenge, alternate between this move and the plank pose without resting in between. Instead, simply push down on your arms and exhale as you lift yourself back to the plank pose. Hold this for a few breaths, then return to the four limbed staff pose. Repeat this several times.
10. Upward Facing Dog Pose (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana)
The upward facing dog pose is another pose that is easy to transition to from the four limbed staff pose. It is a good stretch for your back and upper body, but also strengthens your core muscles and arms.
Start by laying on your stomach on the floor, with the soles of your feet facing the sky. Bend your elbows so that your hands are on either side of your waist (the narrowest part of your torso), and spread your palms on the ground. Straighten your arms while lifting your chest upwards. Raise your hips and legs slightly, being sure to keep the muscles in your thighs and bum actively engaged.
Be sure that your elbows are tucked in to your side and not splaying outwards, and keep the crook of your elbow facing forward. Puff your rib cage slightly forward, bringing your shoulder blades together at your back. Keep your head up, either looking straight ahead or slightly up. Don’t strain your neck or tilt your head too far upwards. Keep your thighs and shins near the ground.
Hold this pose for thirty seconds, remembering to breathe. Repeat on its own, or work it into a routine transitioning between the plank pose and four limbed staff pose.
11. Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvangasana)
In addition to toning the abdominal muscles, the bridge pose has the added benefit of toning and tightening the butt. This pose requires careful attention to proper form in order to achieve the maximum benefits. Incorrect form can also lead to injury, so it is best to focus on executing this pose properly.
Start by laying on your back, with knees bent and feet beneath the knees, hip distance apart. Your arms should be at your sides. Lift your hips, being careful to keep your knees together and not pushing outwards. Bring your hands together beneath your back, letting your upper arms roll outward but keeping your shoulders slightly shrugged by your ears.
Lift your upper torso, bringing your body into a straight line from shoulders to knees. Your knees should form an angle that is less than ninety degrees, but large enough that your hips and back are lifting from the floor and not sagging. Do not puff your stomach or hips forward, as this puts strain on your neck and does not engage your core muscles properly.
Hold this pose for several breaths, up to a minute, and then let your body relax to the floor. Repeat.
12. Extended Side Angle Pose (Utthita Parsvakonasana)
The extended side angle pose is quite the workout in itself, but a few simple modifications can make it target your abdominal muscles even more and make you truly feel the burn. Start from a standing position, placing your feet about three to four feet apart and raising your arms out at your sides, holding them parallel to the ground with palms facing downward.
Rotate your left foot slightly right and turn your right foot ninety degrees to the right, similar to the placement in the beginning of the warrior III pose described above. Turn your hips to the right and keep your right knee above your right foot as you lower into a deep lunge position.
Turn your upper body to the left and attempt to lower your right thigh to be parallel to the floor. Raise your left arm above your head, turning your palm toward your face. Stretch your arm over the back of your left ear and turn your palm towards the floor, focusing on lengthening the left side of your body from your heel to the tip of your fingers. Turn your face upwards toward your left arm.
Reach downward with your right hand, trying to lay the right side of your torso as close as possible to the top of your right thigh while you reach to touch the ground just outside your right foot. Keep your knee pressed lightly against your right arm. Your arms should be straight and wide, forming as close to a straight line as possible between your hands.
Hold this pose for a half minute, then switch sides. Repeat a few times or incorporate it into a routine with other poses.
13. Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar)
The sun salutation, or Surya Namaskar, is not a single yoga pose but actually a series of poses. The poses involved can vary somewhat depending on the instructor or the school, but most follow a similar selection of poses that serve to strengthen the entire body, including your core muscles. The routine can be done slowly or quickly, and adding repetitions can help further tone and define your muscles.
Often, the sun salutation involves many of the poses that we mentioned earlier in this post, so it can be a great way to build a routine that will quickly target all your muscles and strengthen your body.
By routinely practicing a sun salutation set, you can work on toning your entire body, including your abdominals. Adjust your sun salutation as needed by lengthening the routine time or adding more repetitions if you want to get a more intense workout.