If you’ve taken a Pilates or yoga class recently your instructor has definitely asked you to hold Boat Pose. This move challenges you mentally and physically—it isn’t easy to balance as your abs are shaking from the intensity—and it’s a go-to exercise for strengthening your core, including those hard-to-reach abs muscles.
“It effectively targets the deep core including the transverse abdominis and the psoas, which are key for posture and alignment as well as the key to a lean torso,” explains Erika Bloom, Pilates instructor and founder of Erika Bloom Pilates. You’ll need both strength and endurance to hold this pose, she adds—and, considering how many things we use our core for, building endurance in those muscles is definitely a bonus. “We recruit our core muscles 24 hours a day to move, breathe, and function, and they should be active throughout any type of workout,” she says.
To properly activate your core muscles in this pose you want to imagine that you are bringing your belly button to meet your spine. By doing this you should feel your lower abs contract. You also want to make sure that your spine is long (no hunching!) without having your chest pop forward—so think about bringing your ribs in, too.
But your abs aren’t the only muscles working during this move. “Boat Pose teaches the integration of full-body engagement with core facilitation,” explains Bloom. That means you need to keep your core muscles engaged in order to remain balanced, but you’ll also be using tension in your arms and legs—think tightness in your core and extension through your appendages. This tension is the sensation you want to achieve when instructors tell you to “tighten your abs” during moves that don’t feel like traditional abs exercises (what’s up burpees and push-ups).
Even though Boat Pose a great teaching exercise for your core, don’t think of it as training wheels for other abs moves—it’s still tough as hell. Here’s how to do it.
- Sit with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Grasp your legs under your thighs, slightly above your knees.
- Lean back slightly. Lift your feet off the floor so that your shins are parallel to the floor.
- Extend your arms straight out in front of your at shoulder height, with palms facing up.
- Keep your knees bent for 30 seconds, suggests Bloom. Take this time to really engage your deep abdominal muscles and lengthen your spine, keeping your chest open.
- Place your feet back on the ground and relax for a few breaths. Then, do it a second time—this time, straighten and raise your legs toward the ceiling until your body forms a V shape (as shown). “Focus on keeping your abdominals pulled in deep and your spine long,” says Bloom.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds to one minute, if you can keep the proper form. “If you find that you are losing your form, maintain bent knees for the second set,” says Bloom. “Doing it right is key to getting the benefits!”
Hey, as they say, anything worth doing is worth doing right—especially with the awesome benefits of Boat Pose.