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To stay healthy, runners need a solid foundation of strength in their legs, abs, back, and upper body. There are a lot of ways that you can build this strength and some are better than others. Many old-school coaches will recommend sit-ups or crunches (my old coaches did), but are those the best exercises we can do?
No, they’re not. Recent developments in general strength routines, core exercises, and body weight workouts give runners an almost limitless number of exercises to choose from. You’ll never get bored again with the number of ab and total body exercises that are available to runners.
Many of these workouts are taken from the world of pilates, aerobics, and yoga. Slightly modified, they now represent some of the best types of overall strength exercises for runners. Many elite runners spend 1-2 hours per day working on mobility and strength because it helps them run the volume and intensity that they need to compete at a high level.
Let’s look at some advanced exercises that you can do after you’ve mastered basic ab work. If you can’t do a plank for 90 seconds, don’t attempt these.
Haybales involve a medicine ball. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend to a half-squat position and bounce the med ball on the ground and then catch it in your half-squat position. Stand up tall and bring the ball up and over your left shoulder. Keep your stomach tucked in and activated. Bring the medicine ball back down and repeat on your right side.
V-ups also use a medicine ball but you don’t have to stand. Lie on your back and hold the medicine ball behind your head on the ground. Lift the ball above your head while lifting both of your legs at the same time. Crunch your abs and try to touch your feet to the ball while keeping steady. This one is tough!
Walking lunges are great for leg strength, but kick it up a notch by holding weight above your head while doing a standard forward lunge. By holding a medicine ball, dumbbell or a plate above your head, you’re forcing your body off balance. You will activate your abs and work your core area in a very specific way that’s similar to running. You can also do other types of lunges, like the side, backwards, diagonal, and twisting forward lunge. Check this video out for a full demonstration.
Advanced planks are like standard planks, except that you take a hand or foot (or both!) off the ground during the exercise. The beginner version of this exercise involves lifting your forearm off the ground and pointing ahead of you for 5-10 seconds. Slowly put your arm back on the ground and switch arms. You can do the same thing with your legs by simply lifting one leg up.
Once these variations are comfortable, lift your right arm and left leg off the ground to force your abs to hold the majority of your body weight. This type of plank is very difficult and requires a lot of stabilizing muscles to keep you balanced.
After over 12 years of training, I’ve learned a lot of different types of core workouts. The secret to using them successfully in your training program is to gradually increase the intensity of these exercises. Just like with mileage, you can’t jump into something too soon.
These ab and core exercises can keep you healthy and increase the efficiency of your running form. Start by doing them on days that you’re not running. After a few months, try doing them after your runs when you’re already tired. You’ll continue building strength that will help you get faster on race day. Now that’s functional strength!