Happy Friday and Happy Halloween, everyone! Is anyone racing this weekend? I’m tapering for the Valparaiso Half Marathon and will be carbo-loading by eating Halloween candy.
Let’s take a bit of time today to talk about a great way to become a faster and stronger runner. I’ve got a workout for you today!
Many people desire flat abs and a cinched waist for aesthetic reasons. However, having a strong core is beneficial to runners not just because of how it looks. Strong core muscles will improve your running performance and reduce your risk of injury.
Your core, which is comprised of your glutes, lower back, abdominal, and oblique muscles, provides the foundation for all movement. When you run, your are propelling your body forward with your legs, but your glutes, back, and abs provide the power for this movement and stabilize your body as you move. As you strengthen your core, you increase your ability to keep running through a tough workout and to finish fast in a race. A strong core also improves your posture; as we discussed in the post on running form, good posture helps you run efficiently and prevents muscular imbalances and injuries.
If you do trail running or are participating in a race with a hilly course, a strong core will power you up the hills and keep you steady on your way down. As you run uphill, a strong core (particularly the glutes and abdominal muscles) provide a stable base for your legs to push off. A bit of core strength training will save you a lot of discomfort on hilly runs and possibly help you PR on a hilly course.
While speedy 5K and 10K runners benefit well from a strong core, half and full marathoners should emphasize core work in addition to logging high mileage. For endurance athletes, a strong core keeps you feeling strong on long runs and will help you maintain good posture and running form. As your legs tire on double digit runs, a strong core will provide them with power to keep you going.
To effectively strengthen your core, you want to perform strength training exercises that work all of the muscles. These muscles include your glutes, transverse abdominis (which acts like a corset around your waist), external and internal obliques (the sides of your abs), abdominis rectus (the front of your abs), and hip and lower back muscles (erector spinae, multifidus, hip adductors).
I call this core workout my “all-angles ab workout” because it targets all angles of your core—back, sides, and front. This routine only takes 15-20 minutes, depending on how many sets and repetitions you do. I recommend starting with 2 sets of 10 reps and progressing your way to 3 sets of 15 reps. Adding reps will keep the workout challenging as your body adapts to the movements. Be sure to work slowly through the movements and avoid using momentum, as this will increase the effectivity of the exercises. The all-angles ab workout is best done on an easy run day or a non-running day. The only equipment you need is a yoga or exercise mat.
Plank with Arm Reaches: Prop yourself up on your elbows, forearms, and toes. Your body should form straight line from your head through your torso and legs to your feet. Keep your elbows under your shoulders and your hips on an even level with the rest of your body. Engage your abs by pulling your belly button in. Reach forward with your left arm and tap the floor while keeping your body still and level; return to plank and repeat with the other arm for one rep.
Side Plank with Twist: Lie on your right side and support your body with your forearm. Engage your abs and lift your hips so only your arm and feet are on the floor. Be sure to keep your body in a straight line with your elbow under your shoulder, your hips stacked, and your feet stacked. Raise your left arm and then tuck it under your torso, twisting at the waist to follow your arm. This is one rep; after completing all the reps on the right side, switch to your left side and repeat.
Superman Back Extension: Lie facedown on your mat with your arms extended in front of you and body in a straight line. Engage your abs and raise your head, shoulders, and legs off the ground. You should feel as if you are reaching forward with your arms and backward with your toes. Hold for three counts and then lower. This is one rep.
Single-leg Bridges: Lie on your back with your feet on the floor and your knees bent. Keep your right leg bent and extend the left leg straight up in the air. Engage your abs and use your core and grounded foot to lift your hips. Hold this for a couple counts and then lower to the ground. This is one rep; after finishing all the reps with left leg lifted, switch legs and repeat.
Pilates Teaser: Lie on your back with your legs fully extended in front of your and your arms extended above your head. Engage your abs and raise both your torso and legs, as if you are folding your body in half. Reach your fingers towards your toes. Your tailbone/butt should remain on the floor. Lower slowly back to the ground and repeat. Your heels should be touching throughout the entire exercise so that your legs move together. (This exercise is similar to a V-up.
You will notice that I’ve noted to keep your body in a straight line and to engage your abs for each of these exercises. Keeping your body in a straight line protects your spine, works the opposing muscle groups (such as your back in the planks) and encourages good posture. Engage your abs is what makes these exercises effective because it activates those muscles. You want to maintain even breathing while engaging your abs, so the emphasis is on pulling in the muscles, not holding your breath.
If you need further explanation or visuals for these exercises, here are some guides:
Plank with Arm Reaches: see the first exercise in this video from Runner’s World.
Side Plank with Twist: see move 6 in this workout from Women’s Health.
Superman Back Extension: see this Youtube video.
Single-leg Bridge: see this link from HowStuffWorks.
Pilates Teaser: on the eighth slide of this slideshow from Women’s Health.