The beauty of core-strengthening workouts is that you can do them just about anywhere without any special equipment -- you can use your body weight alone. But you still have the option to use weights, resistance bands, stability balls or other resistance devices. What matters most is making sure the exercises you choose will strengthen your core muscles.
You can find hundreds of body weight exercises that build core strength, including various forms of planks, crunches, overhead claps, lunges, and hip and back extensions. The bird dog, or leg raise, is a basic exercise that can help you build base strength and achieve advanced core fitness.
- Place your palms and knees on the floor.
- Keep your back straight.
- Raise your left arm and right leg to form a line parallel to the floor.
- Hold that pose for 10 to 30 seconds, then switch to the opposite arm and leg.
Additionally, you can perform core-conditioning exercises using a stability ball. The following exercise is called a plank, and it forces your core muscles to hold up your body vertically against gravity, working your obliques.
- Place your forearms on top of the ball while your toes are on the floor.
- Keep your body in a straight line.
- Lift your chest off the ball and hold for 30 seconds.
- Rest for 15 seconds and repeat.
Then there are weight machines. If you go to a gym, you'll likely see circuit equipment labeled according to the muscle groups they work. You can also use free weights like dumbbells to strengthen your core while improving coordination. How does it work? Stand on one foot while doing arm exercises like curls, or place one or both feet on a Bosu ball -- it looks like a stability ball chopped in half -- while doing arm exercises. Tightening your core muscles while exercising on a pulley weight machine helps build your stability, balance and strength.
If you're a beginner, pick just a few exercises and aim for two to three sets of 15 reps; every week or two, increase the number of reps and sets. Once you can do four or five exercises and repeat four sets of 20 reps, you should switch to new exercises to keep your body challenged. Check out this Discovery Health article on abdominal and lower back exercises for more detailed descriptions and images that show how some favorite core exercises work.
Head to the next page for lots more information about how core strength training for runners works.