Core strengthening exercises may help you speed up, according to the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Researchers at Barry University measured the effects of six weeks of core strength training (CST) on runners' overall performance.
After six weeks, the CST group showed faster times than the control group in a 5,000-meter run.
The following exercises challenge the abs, arms and back. Perform the series two to three times a week to help you reap running benefits similar to the study participants.
Lie face down on the floor and lift yourself up onto your forearms, keeping your elbows directly below your shoulders. Clench your hands into fists. Tighten your core muscles by pulling your belly button in toward your spine. Raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from the shoulders, hips and ankles--do not allow your hips to move up to a pike position. Hold, breathing normally, for 60 seconds. Return to starting position and repeat three to five times. For a challenge, from the basic plank, lift your right leg off the floor and out to the right side. Hold for a few seconds, and then return it to the ground. Switch legs. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Start in a plank with your arms straight, balancing on your hands and feet. Transfer your weight onto your right side, and place your left foot on top of your right. Balance on your right hand and foot, and raise your left arm straight above your head. For additional challenge, lift your left leg. Hold for 10 seconds. Return to the starting position, and repeat on the other side.
Add variety to your training program with kettlebells. A kettlebell--a weighted ball with a flat bottom and a handle molded into it--places the center of gravity six to eight inches below your hand (versus the center, as with dumbbells), which increases the difficulty of exercises because you have to engage your core muscles for stability. (Find them at kettlebellinc.com or gofit.net.)
Here's a simple exercise to try: Hold onto a kettlebell (KB) with the left hand; stand in a wide stance and bend over until your back is almost parallel to the floor, holding the KB straight down between your legs. Now swing the KB back between your legs and pass it to the right hand behind your right leg. Circle the KB around the right leg, bring it back through your legs and switch it to the left hand. Continue in this figure-eight pattern 15 times. Perform three sets.
Go For a Swim
There's a reason Olympic swimmer Dara Torres has amazing abs. Swimming provides a constant core workout because it requires abs and back strength to stay afloat. "Swimming uses the hip flexors, extensors, and trunk rotators and stabilizers extensively to power the body through the water," says Irv Rubenstein, Ph.D., president of STEPS, Inc, in Nashville, Tennessee "The core is working throughout the entire stroke."
Linda Melone is a California-based freelance fitness writer and certified personal trainer. Visit her at lindamelone.com.