It is the stuff of nightmares: the old-school PE teacher, with shorts pulled up to his chin, collared white polo tucked in, standing over hapless students doing hundreds of sit-ups to prove that they are “fit.” For years, this was the norm for abdominal exercises with a daily prescribed amount needed to keep the core strong.

Things are different now.

Yes, traditional sit-ups work the abs very effectively, but only when done with perfect form. Most people strain the neck or use momentum to propel them forward instead of engaging their abs to lift up. Effective core workouts exercise the back and the core while stretching and lengthening the hip flexors to allow development of deep muscles. There is more than one way to get a strong, healthy core. Here are a few alternative, low-impact abs workouts and activities that can help your core.

Pilates

Pilates is a stretching and strengthening series of exercises that move the muscles through their full range of motion for a more complete workout. When starting Pilates, it is important to take at least one class to understand the mechanics of the motions. Many gyms and fitness centers offer classes, and some have private instructors. Pilates can be done using either special machines for resistance or your own body weight.

Swimming

Swimming is a full-body workout that adds cardio to the mix. The breaststroke is especially effective for the core as it calls for you to lift your head forward for breath, a move that strengthens the low back, which supports the core. Obliques get a workout, as do the hip flexors, and the breaststroke can be modified to any fitness level.

Kayaking

Coming in as an odd but effective low impact workout, kayaking burns up to 400 calories an hour, puts you smack in the middle of nature, and offers an excellent core and upper body workout. Many people fear being zipped in to a kayak and flipping over, but never fear. There are kayaks that can be ridden on top without any straps or zipped in skirts to worry about. Try a guided kayak tour, or try renting a kayak to see if it is something you enjoy.

Stand-Up Paddle Boarding (SUP)

Talk about a low-impact but effective activity! Stand-up paddle boarding works on balance, upper body, core, and back strength, plus cardio. SUP also gets you out in nature, which offers psychological benefits. You can even take a yoga class out on a paddle board.

Yoga

Finally, there is yoga. Yoga is a low-impact, effective way to target abs while working on developing better focus and concentration, which only increases stability in the mid-section. There are many different styles of yoga to choose from, ranging from intensely hot Bikram with its emphasis on removing toxins to calmer, Iyengar and its principles of proper alignment. Whichever you choose, you can be certain that your second and third chakras will get a great workout!

Which low-impact abs workouts have you tried, and which one looks interesting?

Image by colie via Flickr

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