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Most runners have strong hearts and strong legs, but they forget about a key component between the two: the core. You’ve probably heard a lot about strengthening your core for better fitness. If you aren’t sure exactly what your core is, it is the group of muscles that control and support your spine and pelvis. In other words, it’s the muscles of the stomach, back, and hips.
Think of your core as the center of your energy. A strong core will move the energy out to the other parts of your body so they function at their maximum. A weak core doesn’t transfer the energy as well, so some parts of your body will have to compensate by working harder to produce the same motion. After a while, those body parts will break down from excessive wear and tear, and injury will occur.
Besides injury prevention, a strong core will help with
- Your posture
If you strengthen your core muscles, you will stand and sit taller and you’ll find it easier to maintain proper running form.
You will be able to bend and move better because you’ll have better range of motion.
Staying upright is good for everyone, but balance is especially important for runners who go off road and run on trails.
And another benefit? The tight, show-off abs you’ll be sporting!
Improving your core strength can happen in many different ways. Some people prefer to do yoga or pilates, while others use different exercise machines. The good news is this: you don’t need to pay for a gym membership, a trainer, or purchase any special equipment to get your core in shape.
Simple exercises using your own body weight
Lie down on your back and bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Put your feet on the floor and push your heels into the ground. Tighten your abs while you squeeze your buttock muscles, and push your hips up off the floor. Hold this position for 30 seconds and release. Repeat 4-6 times.
To increase the difficulty of this exercise, while your hips are off the floor, extend one leg out and hold it up for 30 seconds. Lower and repeat with the other leg.
The Side Plank
Lie on your left side and lift your upper body off the floor so it rests on your left elbow. Be sure your elbow is directly underneath your shoulder. Lift your hips and knees off the floor so only your left elbow and forearm and your left foot are touching the ground. Also make sure your body is in straight alignment from your shoulders to your knees to your ankles. Hold this position for 30 seconds being careful not to let your hips sag toward the ground. Repeat on the other side.
To increase the difficulty of this exercise, instead of resting on your elbow, push yourself up onto your left hand. Again, be sure your hand is directly below your shoulder and your body is in alignment. Repeat on the other side.
The Front Plank
Lie facedown on the ground. Lift your upper body up by putting your forearms on the ground, elbows directly under the shoulders. Then lift your lower body up so you are on your tiptoes as if you were going to do a pushup. Make sure your feet are shoulder width apart. Keep your body in a straight line from your shoulders to your knees to your ankles, and be careful not to let your knees sink to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat 4-6 times.
To increase the difficulty of this exercise, hold yourself all the way up in a pushup position, with your arms extended and your hands directly under your shoulders. Keep your body in a straight line and hold the position for 30 seconds.
As these exercises get easier, hold the position longer—60 or even 90 seconds each time.
Core training doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive, or time-consuming. You can do these simple exercises almost anywhere and at any time, and reap all the benefits a strong core has to offer!