Core Training for Runners: 5 Ab Exercises to Improve Running Performance
Many runners believe that in order to be top-notch, they must spend all their time running. After all, practice makes perfect, right? While getting in your mileage is important, that doesn’t mean a little cross-training can’t help. And an important cross-training activity for any runner involves a core training program. Exercises for core training are not simply a good idea, they’re a must for peak performance. This is the reason nearly all trainers and running coaches insist on them.
The Basics of a Core Training Program
What is your core? Many runners think of their abs when exercises for core training are mentioned. While your abs are a key part of your body’s core, many other muscles groups are as well. For example, your abdominal obliques and lower back muscles are also part of your core. Pelvic floor muscles, your glutes, and your upper back play a role as well. Any core training program should target these key areas for success.
The Benefits of a Core Training Program
Naturally, exercises for core training will help increase core muscle strength. But in relation to running, a core training program offers many advantages. Deep abdominal strength will improve your speed while stronger obliques provide better form. In addition, improved core strength provides greater overall stability which lowers the risk of injury. This is especially true regarding your lower back. Finally, core strength also makes running more efficient and reduces your fatiguability.
5 Great Exercises for Core Training
There are a number of exercises that can help you build your core strength. However, any core training program should ensure all key core areas are being involved. With this in mind, the following 5 exercises offer a great regimen for core training that all runners should consider.
- Planks and Side Planks
Planks and side planks are great exercises for core training as they hit several core muscles. Regular planks place your weight on your forearms and toes. Side planks place your weight on one forearm and a side foot. Hold for 1-2 minutes with similar times of rest in between.
- Windshield Wipers
This exercise is great for the lower abs, obliques, and low back. Lying flat on your back with arms spread outwards, lift your legs together upwards with knees bent. Then move your legs together slowly to one side without touching the ground. Then return to midline and perform to the opposite side. Perform 8 reps per set and repeat according to your level of training. The key is to go slow and avoid swinging your legs too quickly from side to side.
- Russian Twists
This exercise targets your side abdominals and transverse back muscles. Starting in a seated position with your knees bent and your feet a couple of inches from your buttocks. Then, lean back lifting your feet off the floor keeping a 45-degree angle between your spine and legs. Next, twist from one side to the other as far as possible while maintaining this 45-degree angle. Light weights or a medicine ball can be held to add an extra challenge.
- Boat Position
Yogis know the boat position well as it builds up your spinal muscles, abs, and hip flexors. Start by lying on your back, and then straighten your arms in front of you. Then, lift your legs together a few inches off the ground while leaning your upper torso forward. You should find yourself balancing on your tailbone with your back relatively flat. The resulting V-shape should be held about 10-second while activating your core muscles.
- Bicycle Crunches
Bicycle crunches are part of many runners’ core training program. Lying flat on your back, bend your knees and lift off the ground. Likewise, life your head and shoulder up slightly while supporting your head and neck with your hands. The exercise then consists of moving one elbow toward the opposite knee as you move both toward one another. Then, you simply “cycle” back and forth from one side to the other. This is an excellent exercise for core training your deep abs and obliques.
Devise Your Own Core Training Program
In addition to the exercises for core training listed, several others can also be included. The use of a workout band can expand the types of core exercises you may pursue. Likewise, variations on the exercises above may also be considered. One word of caution, however. Generally speaking, it’s best to avoid regular sit-ups, crunches, and machine-based core exercises. These can create unnatural postures that are not only unproductive but may actually increase injury risk. But by sticking with the core training program provided, you will achieve the core strengthening results you want. And your running performance will undoubtedly improve as well.