Runners have a lot on their to-do lists—long runs, speed-work, hills. Not to mention tending to the family and going to work. It's easy to overlook "extras" like, say, working on your core. Big mistake. That's because spending time targeting the muscles in your abdominals, lower back, and glutes translates into quicker acceleration, better form, and fewer injuries. "When the core is stronger, everything else is stronger," says Stephen Holt, C.S.C.S., a Baltimore-based trainer.
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Best of all, you'll run faster. A 2009 study from Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida, concluded that runners who did six weeks of core training had faster 5K times than a control group.
The training helped the participants focus on their posture, which improved their form—their newfound strength allowed them to run more upright rather than slouching. Neglecting the core can lead to poor running form and even overuse injuries, which will slow you down, says lead researcher and runner Kimi Sato, Ph.D., C.S.C.S., now with the University of Northern Colorado.
Want to see videos of the workout? Learn these moves online. Go to runnersworld.com/corevalues
So what's the best way to improve your core performance? Exercises that challenge gravity and simulate the demands running makes on your muscles—called balance exercises. "Balance training recruits the muscles you use while running and gives you the ability to properly catch yourself, which minimizes your chance of fatigue or injury," says trainer Nancy Cummings, Ed.D., C.S.C.S., professor at Florida Southern College.
The following exercises all challenge your balance in a variety of ways. Do the entire workout twice a week.
Build Deep Core Strength and Stability
Assume a modified plank position with your knees and feet on the ground (12 to 18 inches apart) and your elbows and forearms on a stability ball. Keep your arms about shoulder-width apart and your hands in loose fists. Spell out the letters of the alphabet by making small movements that roll the ball from your elbows onto your forearms. The subtle moves and unpredictability of the way you're drawing each letter will "fry" your abs, says Jeff Plasschaert, M.S., C.S.C.S.
Lift one knee off the ground and do A to M while balanced on one knee, N to Z while balanced on the other.
From start to finish, spell out your favorite motivational running quote. In italics!
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