This piece first appeared on Women’s Running.
Your core is a powerhouse. Think of your middle—abs, back and hips—as the center of your movement. To run efficiently (i.e., faster with less effort), your center must be stabilized while your arms and legs propel you forward.
A tough core is the key to a strong center. Weak core muscles create unnecessary work for other parts of your body—which is wasted energy that delays you from tapping into your true runner potential.
Translation? A muscular midsection is crucial to becoming your most efficient runner self. Training your core will help you nail a new PR—and give you some enviable abs.
If you’ve neglected your middle in the past, make it your first priority before you head out for a run. These body-weight-only exercises make it easy—with static, rotary and dynamic stabilization. This session takes only a few minutes—so you’re out of excuses!
Two to three times a week, do one exercise from each category (static, rotary and dynamic) before heading out for a run.
What About Crunches and Sit-Ups?
Research done by Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics, shows that crunches may contribute to back injuries—and that stabilizing exercises (where your spine remains straight) are actually more effective at activating the abs. This is especially true for runners, who need to have the strength to stabilize their core while quickly moving their legs and arms to propel themselves forward.
The 3 Types of Core Exercises
STATIC: Hold Still. Starting with a static exercise teaches your body to stabilize. By bracing your core muscles without movement you build that strength. Choose one from this category before your run.
ROTARY: Add a Twist. When you run, you’re propelling yourself by moving the opposite arm and leg to create rotational force across your body. Rotary exercises help you make that movement more efficient. Choose one from this category before your run.
DYNAMIC: Go Full Body. By performing dynamic exercises, you will be able to swing your arms and legs without letting your body move too so that you have a stable center for your movement to come from. Choose one from this category before your run.
Here are examples of all three types:
Get down on your elbows and toes with your back in a straight line, elbows directly underneath your shoulders and abdominals braced. Hold this position without letting your back overarch as you keep your abdominals tight. Perform 1 to 2 sets of a 30- to 60-second hold.
Static: Side Plank
Lie on your side with your bottom elbow right underneath your shoulders. Your shoulders and feet should be stacked, your back in a straight line and your abdominal muscles braced tightly. Lift your hips off the ground, keeping your body in one straight line. Perform 1 to 2 sets of a 30- to 60-second hold.
Rotary: Russian Twist
(a) Sit on the floor with your legs bent 90 degrees and your upper body leaning back slightly. Extend your arms in front of you, palms together. (b) Keeping your torso completely still, move your hands and arms straight from one side to the other. That’s one rep. Perform 1 to 2 sets of 8–10 on each side.
Bonus: To increase the difficulty, lift your feet off the floor, or increase the range of motion of your upper body as you twist.
(a) Start in a pushup position with arms straight. (b) Shift your weight to one side and turn your hips and shoulders to be square to the wall, reaching your free hand up toward the ceiling to form a T. Keep your body in a straight line and shift back to the start position. Repeat on the other side and continue alternating back and forth. Perform 1 to 2 sets of 8–10 on each side.
Dynamic: Bird Dog
(a) Get down on your hands and knees with your spine in a neutral position (not rounded) and your stomach drawn in tight. (b) Reach your right leg straight out behind you, so that you’re squeezing your right butt cheek, and your left arm in front, so it’s in line with your ear. Your hips should remain square. Return to the starting position and repeat with your right arm and left leg. Perform 1 to 2 sets of 8–10 on each side.
Dynamic: Mountain Climber
(a) Start in a pushup position with arms straight. (b) Drive one knee up toward your chest, then return the leg to the starting position as you bring the other knee toward your chest. Be careful not to round your back. Continue back and forth, alternating legs as fast as possible while keeping your core stable. Perform 1 to 2 sets of 8–10 on each side.
Dynamic: Dead Bug
(a) Start by lying on your back with your hands and knees pointing up like a dead bug. (b) Keeping your abdominals braced and your spine neutral, straighten your leg and lower your left foot toward the floor, while lowering your right arm straight overhead. When your foot and arm are just barely off the floor, hold for a count and return to the start. Repeat with the opposite leg and arm. Focus on keeping your core engaged while moving your leg and arm slowly and with control. Perform 1 to 2 sets of 8–10 on each side.