While a ripped six-pack may not be the usual point of concern for runners, building up core strength does result in many positive benefits when it comes to running. At a high level, a strong core can improve your running posture & speed. Because your arms and legs all stem from the core, the strength in your limbs are intimately tied to the strength in your torso. Having a strong core sets a solid foundation for strength in the rest of the body.
The main benefit of core strength for runners is increased stabilization in the torso. Your core muscles – the chest, back, abs, and obliques – are what keep your torso upright when you run, and reduce “wobbling” when moving your arms & legs. When running, core strength allows the pelvis, hips, and lower back to work together more smoothly, with less rocking & thus, less excess energy expended. Core strength also significantly improves balance, meaning that you recover quickly from missteps small & large.
Core strength for distance runners is especially important. Towards the end of long runs or races, when you are extremely fatigued, your form begins to suffer. Poor form not only slows you down, it also opens you up to potential injuries. For distance runners who are familiar with that lower back ache, building up core strength will help to maintain good posture, and reduce the pains that result from poor posture.
Here are four simple bodyweight moves to improve core strength that every runner should try! You can do a few reps of these moves before each run, or condense them into a weekly workout with focus on core.
Planks (targets all core muscles)
Planks are especially great for runners because they really emphasize the dependant relationship between your core & your limbs. Planks will strengthen your abs, eretor spinae (the muscles that run up & down your spine), chest, shoulders, quads, and hamstrings. Try doing a 30-second to 1-minute plank before every run.
Hollow Rocks (targets abs, especially lower abs)
To outsiders, this traditional gymnastics move looks like a fairly easy, sort-of funny rocking motion. But when you do it for yourself, you will find that it’s incredibly difficult, and also incredibly effective.
Start by lying with your back on the ground, arms & legs fully extended. Lift your arms & legs off the ground, and attempt to curve your back so that your whole body makes a smooth “bow” shape. This is the basic “Hollow body” position. Then, begin rocking back & forth to make it a “Hollow Rock” exercise!
You initially struggle with rocking because of a “flat” spot at your lower back. It is crucial that you are engaging your lower abs to round out the lumbar arch (the flat spot of your back that makes rocking so difficult). Start by practicing hollow rocks for two minutes at a time, concentrating on pulling the lower abs in to effectively round out the lower back.
Superman (targets back, especially erector spinae)
This simple exercise engages the back muscles and emphasizes the strength relationship between your back & your protruding limbs. The Superman exercise could be described as the opposite version of Hollow Rocks.
Lay face-down on the floor, then fully extend the arms & legs straight out. Engage the muscles in your core & back to lift your arms, legs, and head off the floor, and hold, letting them hover. As your strength increases, you should be able to increase the distance between the floor & your limbs. As you practice Supermans, you should be trying to improve both the amount of time you can hold it, as well as lifting your arms & legs higher, higher, higher off the ground.
Windshield wipers (targets obliques)
This exercise places emphasis on the obliques – an extremely important muscle group for running stability. Building strength in the obliques will minimize excess wiggling & wobbling of the torso while you run.
Lie on your back and extend your legs upwards, making an “L” shape with your body. Then, keeping your back glued to the floor, lower your legs down to the right, back up to the middle, then down to the left, making a “windshield wiper” motion with your legs.
What are some of your favorite core moves? Let us know in the comments.