There are lots of core exercises out there. You've got crunches, planks, ab machines and dozens of other options. Which ones should you do as a runner? Answering this question becomes easy if you first consider what your core muscles are supposed to do for you when you're running. Once you've identified the responsibilities that these muscles need to fulfill, choosing the right core exercises is a simple matter of picking movements that train your core to do its various jobs more effectively.
Your core muscles have three major duties when you're running:
*Keeps your pelvis and spine properly aligned, and stable in that alignment
*Aids the transfer of forces between the upper body and the legs
*Limits spinal rotation as you run
Let's take a closer look at each of these responsibilities and identify a sample exercise that helps the core perform each more effectively.
How Your Core Helps You Maintain Stability During Running
The major joints of your body—the ankles, knees, hips, etc.—are kind of like fault lines underneath the surface of the Earth. The impact of the foot against the ground during running is a bit like an earthquake. When an earthquake occurs in an area with highly unstable faults, lots of things on the surface get broken. Similarly, runners with poor joint stability have a way of getting injured. Well-conditioned core muscles are needed to keep the spine, pelvis and hips relatively stable when impact forces travel upward from the ground through the body.
While healthy running requires a strong core, running itself doesn't create a strong core. To strengthen your core muscles so that they do a better job of stabilizing your joints when you run, you need to do exercises that force key muscles such as the transverse abdominis—the deepest core muscle, which wraps around the lower torso like a corset—to work hard. The stability ball roll-out is one such exercise.
Core Exercise #1: Stability Ball Roll-Out
Kneel on the floor facing a stability ball, lean forward slightly, and place your forearms on top of the ball. Pull your belly button toward your spine. Slowly roll the ball forward by extending your forearms out in front of you and allowing your body to tilt toward the floor. Concentrate on maintaining perfect alignment of your spine. Stop just before you're forced to arch your back. Hold this position for three seconds and then return to the start position, exhaling as you do so. Do up to 12 repetitions.