A strong core = strong running. Many people think of it as an after thought, but you need to focus on your core in order to maintain proper form. If your core isn’t strong enough then you will not be able to stand as upright and start to restrict airflow or cause other form problems. So what are the best core exercises to get the abs you desire? How often or at what times should you do core workouts?
When Should You Work on Your Core?
I would not recommend doing core directly before running as that can alter your form as you start to get tired, however just after a run is the perfect time to strengthen those abs. Also, I would recommend doing it once per day (ideally after your run) for about ten minutes. You could go longer or you can go shorter, just make sure you feel like you have a good workout in by the time that you are done.
Of the seven days of the week I would spend 6 of them doing a “light” core workout where you spend the ten minutes after a run, but once a week you should have a designated core day that you do more than normal. Your abs are very important to holding your form, and lets be honest… everyone wants abs.
Benefits of a Strong Core
A runner is not usually going for that bulging 6-pack but a well toned core is what everyone is looking for. Your core is at the center of every motion for your body. A stronger core will help with posture and will provide a solid base for all of your leg kicks and arm swings as you cross over miles and miles of land.
The stronger your core, the less “wiggle” your body will have as your limbs are moving around. This “wiggle” can really add up to a lot of extra energy spent as you progress through a long run.
Your core is also important for balance. When you have a strong core, things like trail running or simply everyday running will become easier as you are able to maintain and regain balance easier over uneven terrain.
The most important thing for distance runners is maintaining proper form when they are tired at the end of a workout. By strengthening your core you should be able maintain form rather than breaking down like many do in the last few miles. By keeping form you will be able to conserve energy and you reduce your chance for injury. When form breaks down, that is when injuries occur. Build up a strong core and you will reap the benefits!
So now its time to talk about workouts that you can do to strengthen your core. For the most part I will only recommend body weight workouts that you can do on your own, but there will be a couple extra workouts. Core strength is all about getting a well rounded core, do not just focus on doing one exercise everyday. You wan to work on your abs, obliques, and lower back in order to have a well rounded core.
The best way to strengthen all of these areas is by doing a circuit training workout. This means that you will rotate between various exercises in set amount of times. I typically do a single exercise for 30 seconds and move directly into the next one. This means you can get about 20 exercise in within a 10 minute workout!
So here is my list of core exercises:
- Regular sit ups (30 seconds)
- Sit ups with one leg up (30 seconds per leg) – do sit ups with one leg up so that it is resting on the knee of the other leg. With your hands behind your head sit up moving your opposite elbow into your keen of the leg that’s on top. For example if you put your right leg up, you would do a sit up with touching your left elbow to your right knee.
- Straight leg sit ups (30 seconds) – crunches with your legs flat on the ground
- Side crunches (30 seconds per side) – lie on your side with your shoulders flat on the ground. Then just do a sit up out of that position.
- Bicycle (30 seconds) – lie on your back with your legs bent in the air. Move them as if you were riding a bicycle (hence where the name comes from) and twist your elbows back and forth as you are “riding the bike” so that your opposite elbow will touch the knee of the leg that is closest to you. So when your left leg is closest to your chest, with your elbows behind your head, move the left elbow to the right knee.
- Scoops (30 seconds each way) – lie on your back and perform a scoop like motion with your legs. Start with your legs bent in so that your heels are at your butt. Extend your legs out so they are hovering above the ground, lift them up into the air, and then move them back in and down to their starting position. You will be making a circular motion with your feet going out, up, in, down, and repeat. Do this in a controlled motion to get the most benefit. Reverse directions for the other 30 seconds
- Russians (30 seconds) – find a balance point on your tailbone and lift your legs into the air while they are bent. Put your hands at your belly button and clinch fists together. You will keep your legs in the air and in the same position (relatively) while you twist your body so that your elbows hit the ground on either side of you.
- Heel touches (30 seconds) – be in a regular sit up position with your feet flat on the ground. Slightly lift your shoulders up off of the ground and lay your arms flat on the ground be your side. Rock your upper body left and right so that your hands touch your heels and go back and forth between left and right heel.
- Toe touches (30 seconds) – extend your legs straight into the air and do a sit up where you extend your arms into the air and try to touch your toes.
- Lemon squeezer (30 seconds) – find the balance point and lift your feet into the air like you did with russians. You will extend your body out as if you were lying on your back but keep your shoulders and feet off the ground. Then move back in to the russian position. The name for this comes from pretending there is a lemon between your leg and butt as you are coming back to the starting position. You want to bring your feet in as much as possible as if you were squeezing the lemon between your foot and butt.
- Slany (30 seconds each side) – this is one of the most difficult exercises. Lie on your back with your feet just off of the ground and shoulders off the ground with your arms stretched out above your head (just above the ground). You will focus on one side for 30 seconds at a time. Bring your left leg in so that your knee is close to your chest while your right leg stays hovering above the ground. Keep your right arm straight and rotate it in so that you touch your left knee. Then return to starting position and repeat. Focus on left leg to right arm first 30 seconds, then right leg to left arm for second 30 seconds.
- Superman (30 seconds) – lie on your stomach and act like you are flying like Superman. Hold your arms straight ahead and lift them as high as possible. Lift your legs up as high as possible as well. Then just hold position for the 30 seconds.
- Planks (1 minute) – also known as stabilizers. Do this off of your forearms rather than straight arm if possible. Try to keep a level plane across from shoulders to heels… no hills or valleys!
- Side Planks (30 seconds per side) – It is the same idea as a plank but only one arm is on the ground so you will need to balance a little more. If you are on your right arm, extend your left arm straight to the sky and form a level plane with your body between your arm in the sky and elbow on the ground. Stack your feet on top of each other (on the side) and focus on lifting your hips up off of the ground. This will be difficult until your obliques get stronger.
This would compile a 10 minute workout but I will provide some other exercises that can make it last up to 15 minutes. Feel free to mix around exercises but the options above that are in bold should be a regular of your core routine.
- Straight leg hold (30 seconds) – lie on your back and lift your legs up about 6 inches off of the ground. Hold this position.
- Seal Kicks (30 seconds) – assume the same position as straight leg hold. Then flutter your legs alternately up and down while keeping them straight.
- Leg Lifts (30 seconds) – assume same position as straight leg hold. Keep your legs together and move them vertically (while keeping legs straight) in a controlled motion and then bring them back down. Repeat moving them up and down.
- Scissors (30 seconds) – assume straight leg position. You will be moving your legs horizontally and then when you move them back in cross your legs over each other (like scissors overlapping).
- V sits (30 seconds) – assume the position that you did for slany. Keep your legs and arms straight and lift them up to meet in the middle of your body (making a V shape)
- Leg ups (30 seconds) – this is kind of a fun one. Lie on your back with your back on the ground and forearms on the ground. Start with your legs straight out and just above the ground. Bring them into your body and then extend them straight up into the air. As you extend up your butt will lift up off of the ground so that is why you have your forearms on the ground to help balance.
- Floppies (30 seconds) – this can go with Superman. It is the same workout but you will go in burst from holding your arms and legs just above the ground and then extending them up as high as you can. Just go in short little bursts to and see how high you can get.
- Mountain climers (30 seconds) – make an upside down V with your body with your feet and hands on the ground. Move one leg forward so that your knee is next to your chest. You will be “running” on the ground where your leg that was next to your chest extends back and the on that was back comes up to your chest.
- Burpees (30 seconds) – start out standing up. Drop down to a squat with your hands on the ground. Then extend your feet back as if you were in a push-up position. Bring your legs back into the squat position and then stand up. Repeat the process.
- Rotating Stabilizer (30 seconds) – assume stabilizer with your forearms on the ground. You will be rotating between a straight arm stabilizer and forearm stabilizer position. First lift your right forearm off the ground and put your hand on the ground. Then do the same with your left arm so both arms are extended straight down like when in a push-up position. Then rotate back down so that your forearms are on the ground and keep rotating up and down.
These are all exercises that you can do on your own and should be compiled into your daily 10 minute workout in any fashion that you see fit. Some exercises that you can also include which may require a partner or equipment are:
- Throwdowns – you will need a friend to be the “thrower”. You will lie on your back and they will place their feet at your shoulders. You will put your arms above your head and grab their ankles. Lift your legs straight into the air. From here your partner will “throw” your legs down to the left, center, right, center, and repeat the cycle. The workout can be harder depending on how hard your partner wants to throw your legs down. Your goal is to keep your legs from hitting the ground and then return them to the starting position.
- Medicine ball toss (standing) – using the medicine ball you will be working on your obliques. Line up so that you and your partner and standing horizontal to each other. Using a medicine ball you will hold it and rotate your body to the right and then twist back to the left as you throw the ball to your partner. They will do the same thing and then throw it back. Just keep rotating back and forth throwing the ball back and forth. If you both turn around then you can switch the way of rotation so that instead of throwing off of your left side you will now throw off of your right side.
- Medicine ball toss (sit up position) – you will be doing normal sit ups. Your partner will have a medicine ball and when you reach the top of your first sit up they will throw the ball to you. You then bring it down with you for your sit up (keep at chest or extend ball behind your head if you can) and when you come back up you will toss it to them. Just do a normal sit up when you throw the ball and you will receive it again when you reach the top.
- Medicine ball sit ups – you can do this without the partner. Just do sit ups with a medicine ball. Ideally you would extend it behind your head to get more of a workout in.
These are all very beneficial workouts that would ideally be done on your major core day. For the day that you set aside to work on your core, you should try to devote a solid 20-30 minutes aside to get a great workout in. Doing this on a day that you do not run will allow you to be fresh and able to tackle the whole workout.
For your extended core day you can either add time to some of your workouts or just increase the volume of workouts that you do in order to fit into the time limit.
Thank you for taking your time to read through this and I hope this provides enough information on how to get a strong core. But, if there are any questions about how to do some of the exercises or any comments I encourage you to comment below. Also, I encourage all of you to share your favorite core exercise below (whether I have it listed or not) I always like learning new exercises!
I will try to add images and correct descriptions if they are confusing. If you are unsure what to do most of these exercises should be easily looked up. Sorry for the inconvenience.