You might associate having a strong core with six-pack abdominal muscles and doing countless sit-ups, crunches, and other workouts on the stomach. The truth is, however, a sculpted set of abs is only a small part of having a strong core. It goes far beyond crunches and sit-ups and has many more benefits than a toned stomach. A strong core can actually help a runner improve his or her performance by doing some very simply core strengthening exercises.
What Exactly Is Your Core?
Your core isn’t just your midsection. It’s three dimensional with depth and movement from your abs to your diaphragm to your pelvic floor. A lot of your core muscles are hidden deep inside your body, hidden beneath those muscles which are close to the surface that people train to get a chiseled midsection.
Think about that for a minute. A lot of the muscles in your core are actually hidden beneath the ones that people work the most to have a sculpted stomach. So, you can actually have great abs without having a strong core.
Why Is Your Core Important?
Your core is different from other muscle groups because it’s not responsible for a large amount of gross movement. For example, the group of muscles in your forearms and hands help you make all the gross and fine movements you do with your fingers. The muscles in your upper arm all work together to help you pull and lift. Your core muscles act more as a means of stabilization. This should be considered when choosing what exercises to do to strengthen your core.
When you think about the location of your core, you can see that it’s in the center of your body. It connects your midsection to your hips, legs, spine, and shoulder blades. That’s why you need to work your full core and not just the muscles on the surface. Crunches and sit-ups have their purpose but should be used in conjunction with other exercises in a routine to work every dimension of your core.
How Does a Strong Core Help Your Running?
Having a strong, stable core is essential for a runner. It controls the way your abs, pelvis, hips, and back work together. When it’s conditioned and working at its peak, these areas all seamlessly work together in order to transfer energy and from your foot to your leg to your torso and over to your other foot.
Having a strong core can reduce your chances of a wide range of injuries. This includes everything from twists and sprains and other common running injuries to things that we just write off as signs of aging, like lower back pain.
Your balance and stability are also improved by strengthening your core, both of which are important parts of an effective and fast run. You’ll have better posture, which will avoid putting unnecessary pressure on your back, hips, knees, and feet.
The 5 Best Core Exercises for Runners
One of the keys to core strengthening as a runner is to gain strength without building bulk. You want to be strong and fast and too much muscle makes adds too much weight which can inhibit your speed.
There are several goals for a runner when doing core training:
- Control. Being able to keep your core steady when you’re running to reduce the pressure on your back and legs while you run.
- Avoid injury. Do core exercises slowly and specifically to isolate the various deep muscles.
- Improve breathing. Core exercises in and of themselves won’t help you lose weight but they will help improve your breathing. You should find it easier to run and regulate your breathing shortly after starting your core strengthening routine.
Keeping that in mind, here are 5 of the best core exercises you can do as a runner to improve your performance. The best thing about these is there’s no special equipment needed. You just need something to lie down on a mat or a towel and you can do these exercises just about anywhere.
1. Basic Plank
Get down onto the floor and get into a push-up position. Bend your elbows 90 degrees and use your forearms to support your bodyweight. Pay special attention to your positioning. Make sure your elbows are directly below your shoulders and your body is straight from your head to your feet. Hold the position as long as you can.
2. Side Plank
Lie on your right side. Use your right forearm for support as you lift your hips and hold your body in a straight line from your head to your feet. All of your body-weight should be on your forearm and your right foot. Hold as long as you can and then switch to the other side.
There are countless variations on plank exercises so you’re sure to be able to find one that works for you.
Lie down on your stomach and extend your arms and legs. While keeping your legs and arms straight, lift your arms and legs off the floor and toward the ceiling, arching your back. Hold that position for 1 – 5 seconds and repeat. Work your way up to doing 3 sets of 12 reps.
Lie flat on your back. Bend your knees and place your feet a few inches from your butt. Put your hands to your head with your palms open and facing up and keep your elbows at about 45 degrees. Bring your shoulders off the ground as you exhale, hold for 2 seconds, then release slowly. Repeat by pulling your shoulders back up just as they are about to touch the ground. You can also do modifications to these by using a Exercise or Stability Ball. This tool forces you to engage your core in ways you need.
5. Bicycle Legs
Lie down on your back and lace your fingers behind your head. Bend your knees so they’re in line with your hips. Lift your shoulder blades off the ground. Straighten your right leg and bring your left elbow toward your right knee, rotating your upper body. Switch sides then continue to alternate as if you’re pedaling a bike. Complete 12 full reps.
If you're looking for something a bit more advance you can do 'Mountain Climbers'. Get into a plank position and bring each leg, one at a time, to your arms. You can even use a tool like a Speed Agility Ladder to hop up with both legs at once.
As a runner, strengthening your core will help your balance, stability, and breathing. Use these 5 core strengthening exercises to get major benefits to greatly improve your running.