All runners, in fact, all exercisers, know they should do core work. But without some guidance you'll run out of ideas after the plank and some crunches. So here are some core exercises for home and/or gym to throw into your routine
Why the core is key
When you run, though your legs may be doing the lion's share of the work, your upper body is constantly rotating. Your abdominals and obliques should be activated, providing balance and support. And of course your intercostal muscles are working away as you breathe more and more heavily, so these muscles need to be strong. If they aren't, you are more likely to overcompensate elsewhere and perhaps cause an injury or pain."It's so important.
The stronger the core, the more likely you are to hold your form and less likely to get injured," says Paula Radcliffe, a woman who knows a thing or two about running.
So really, these are the most win/win of exercises: they may help you run faster and longer and get more defined stomach muscles.
Here are some variations on the classic plank – getting progressively harder depending on your level of fitness/experience. I'm not suggesting you do all of these in one session, they are grouped together so you can take your pick, and perhaps move through them in each subsequent workout. Likewise, you can increase your time for each rep if you find 45 seconds too easy.
The straight arm plank: 3 sets of 40 sec hold
Hands are directly beneath the shoulders and arms are straight. Body is in a straight line with the core held strong & tight.
The military plank or 'ground and pound': 3 sets x 10 reps
Assume the plank position, then go up on to your arms – ie putting weight on hands not forearms – and down again. Essentially, you are moving from plank to press-up position and back again.
Swiss ball plank: 3 sets of 45-60 secs hold
As above, holding the plank position on a Swiss ball.
TRX plank 3 sets – 45secs hold
A straightforward plank but with your feet in the TRX loops. Many gyms now have TRX areas and you can ask any trainer to show you how to adjust the length of the straps. A top tip is to put your feet in forward – ie sit down facing the straps. Put your left foot in the right loop and vice versa, then flip over on to your hands/forearms. This is a lot easier than trying to get your feet in backwards when lying or crouching face down.
Side plank thrusts.
From the side plank position, simply dip your hip down towards the ground and up again.
Side plank twists
Another variation in the side plank is to touch your non-supporting arm to your ear, then twist or dip your elbow down toward the hand on the floor and back up again.
Russian twists. 3 sets x 20 twists
Sit on the floor with your knees slightly bent, as if you were about to do a sit-up. Keep feet together. Using your weighted ball or kettlebell (whatever weight is appropriate for you), swing the weight from one side of your body to the other in a twisting movement. Don't stop between twists.
The woodchop: 3 sets x 12 reps
A rotational exercise, this uses the cable machine at the gym – do ask a trainer to show you how it works and ensure you get the right weight/resistance for you – it's essentially a pulley system. Stand at 90 degrees to the machine, arms straight, holding the handle, then bring it around to the front of your body and down and across to the other side.
Swiss ball lower back extensions: 3 sets x 12 reps
Put your feet up against a wall – just for stability (not essential but certainly helps getting into position). Lie over the ball with your chest lowered and your hands raised to your ears. Then raise your chest up with your arms remaining parallel – you should feel a good back stretch. Pause and come back down.