We ask a lot of our core. It’s expected to protect our vital organs, provide balance and stability, and connect movement between our upper and lower bodies. It’s important to maintain core health with ab stretches.
“A combination of expansion and compression exercises are super important for the health and function of our vital organs, including the liver, kidneys, diaphragm, and stomach,” says Cristian Plascencia, the senior durability coach at Onnit Academy in Austin, TX. “These organs affect the release of certain hormones and biochemicals that ultimately affect metabolism, strength gains, and the recovery processes in our body.”
So, having strong and flexible abdominal muscles is about more than just looking good. And, if you’ve got a sedentary job, proper stretching can also help to undo all that desk-induced hunching of your back. Plascencia adds, “From a performance standpoint, when our diaphragm and abdominal muscles are stuck in a tight, compressed state, we sacrifice the ability of our glutes and hip flexors to function appropriately.”
The point is, your core is important. So, it’s best to take care of it! To do just that, here are six great ab stretches, from Plascencia and Aaptiv Trainer Jessica Muenster, to incorporate into your own exercise regimen.
Kneeling Spinal Wave
This stretch targets the rectus abdominis, hip flexors, diaphragm, and other surrounding tissues in the front portion of your body. “It’s a great stretch to elongate the tissues that normally get tight and compressed in a sitting desk job,” says Plascencia.
Do it: Start in child’s pose. Begin to round your lower back, middle back, and shoulders like a rolling wave, moving forward until your shoulders are above your hands. Flex your glutes, gaze up, and open your chest to stretch through your abdomen. Slowly return to the child’s pose position, and repeat.
Twisting Shoulder Bridge
This stretch will elongate and lengthen the tight tissues surrounding your abdominals, says Plascencia. “With the shoulder and upper body creating more length through this stretch, we allow for the full body to get involved in a decompression based stretch. [It] counteracts all the short, tight tissues near our hip flexors and abdominals.”
Do it: Get into the hip bridge position, with your feet on the floor, knees bent, and hips thrust toward the sky. Keeping your right arm on the ground, reach for your right heel. Then, rolling over onto your right shoulder, reach your left arm back and over your head. Switch sides and repeat.
Muenster likes the classic standing side stretch. It opens up your waist and obliques, while promoting mobility in your rib cage.
Do it: Stand upright, and raise your right arm to the sky. Slowly bend over to your left side, creating a C shape in your side body. Switch sides, and repeat.
Another Muenster favorite is the cobra, a fundamental yoga pose and a beneficial abdominal stretch. It lengthens the core, strengthens the lower back, and is a great foil to being hunched over a computer all day.
Do it: Lie face down with your palms on the ground underneath your shoulders. Using your hands, lift up your chest and shoulders, while keeping your legs on the ground. Hold for a few seconds, and repeat.
Yogis will also recognize the cat/cow. It consists of moving the spine from a rounded position to an arched position—flexion to extension—and can help to maintain a healthy spine and abdominal muscles.
Do it: Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips. On an inhale, arch your back from your tailbone to your neck. Then on an exhale, drop your head and round your back (think of an angry cat), and concentrate on pulling your navel up toward your spine. Repeat, moving slowly between the two positions.
This abdominal stretch is the easiest of them all, but don’t take it for granted. By lying on the floor and stretching in both directions, your abs get pulled from the top and bottom. This results in a deep, satisfying stretch.
Do it: Lie on your back with your legs straight out and your arms above your head. Attempt to make your body as long as possible, by stretching from your toes to your fingertips. Breathe slowly, and hold the stretch for 30 seconds.
Work these ab stretches into your weekly workout routine to build and maintain a strong, flexible core. Your workouts will thank you.