Building a strong midsection entails so much more than getting a sculpted six-pack. Ben Greenfield, an Ironman triathlete, coach and the nutrition consultant for X2Performance, fills us in on why core work is key—especially for runners—and reveals his six top core exercises for beginning runners.
Why Beginners Need to Focus on Their Cores
So, what are the benefits of a strong core for a runner? "A strong core is crucial for power transfer of your midsection to your arms and legs," says Greenfield. "It helps you maintain proper run posture, which improves efficiency and economy, and facilitates turnover through the hip flexors." What's more? If your core muscles are weak, you won't be able to breathe as deeply, lift as heavily, or move as quickly.
The Core Is More Than Just Abs
Do you think that if you bang out 100 sit-ups a day you'll get a strong core? Think again. While abdominal exercises, like crunches and sit-ups, work the front of your stomach—also known as the rectus abdominis—they only tap into a small percentage of muscle groups in your core. "The core actually goes way beyond these ab muscles, and includes the muscles of your lower back, pelvic floor and hips," explains Greenfield. "Ab work only really hits the front of your midsection."
All told, there are over 15 muscles that make up your core, says Greenfield. "Imagine bending down and picking up a weight, then lifting it over your head. As you do this, you're engaging each of your core muscles. "That's why movement like a squat to overhead press is a far more effective core training exercise than simply sitting on a machine and pressing a weight overhead," says Greenfield.
Do You Need to Work Your Core Daily?
Building a rock-solid core doesn't mean you have to hit the gym on the daily. You can actually tone your midsection while doing everything from running to driving a car to prepping dinner for your family. "Focus on sitting upright with excellent posture in whatever you do," says Greenfield. "Keep your core activated when you're doing daily tasks like cooking or cleaning. The key is to maintain constant core tension."