This is a follow-up to a previous article on the benefits of core strength for running performance.
To recap, I covered the key benefits of core strength for runners such as improved efficiency, better posture, plus improved balance and stability. I also mentioned some activities for improving core strength, namely floor exercises, cross training, yoga, pilates and gym training.
In this article I want to quickly mention three of the more effective specific exercises that are scientifically proven to be the best at build your core.
Before I start out, I just want to point out, when most people start an exercise program they tend to start with easy exercises first with the intention of building up to the more advanced exercises when they get fitter. This will probably works for some, but when I undertake a new exercise program, I prefer to start on the most effective exercise (which is usually the hardest) first and work up to doing more reps over time.
I feel however it is too easy to become complacent with light-weight exercises and often wonder if I’m actually getting any benefit from them at all. So unless the hard ones are totally and utterly beyond me, I’d rather start with the advanced exercises first, knowing that I’m getting the maximum return on my time and effort.
I concede I will probably not do many reps when I start, but that’s ok, because I’m just starting out.
If I can only manage 5, it doesn’t matter. Next time I’ll try for 8. Then the time after that I’ll shoot for 10 and so on until I become more proficient with the particular activity.
I’d also like to state that I’m no fitness instructor and while this has worked for me, this is just my personal way of doing things. While I certainly advocate starting with the hardest exercises possible I also want to make clear that this isn’t the same as pushing yourself to extreme limits when you’re starting. I always start at a very basic level build myself up slowly and incrementally.
From years of personal experience, I have learned, where fitness is concerned, erring on the side of conservatism is usually the best policy.
So what are the best types of exercises for core strength?
Abdominal exercises are scientifically measured using a technique called electromyography (EMG) and rated relative to the traditional crunch – which is far from the best form of abdominal exercise by the way, contrary to it’s popularity.
You should be aware that some exercises work on the rectus abdominus or your six-pack for those who have no idea what that is. Others work on your obliques which are located more to the side of the rectus obdominus. It is important to focus on both areas.
The Three best abdominal/core strength exercises
Bicycle Crunches top the list of the most effective abdominal exercises. To perform this exercise, lay flat on your back as if to do a crunch, placing your hands behind your head for support, bend your knees 90 degrees, then raise your left knee, while at the same time bringing your right elbow to your left knee, then alternate: right knee to left elbow, left knee to right elbow and over and over. The exercise should resemble a peddling motion.
The Bicycle crunch is extremely effective for your rectus abdominus as well as the obliques.
It rates 248% and 290% better than a traditional crunch respectively.
Another advantage of the Bicycle Crunch is it can be done without expensive gym equipment (or gym membership).
Hanging Knee Raises or Captain’s Chair Exercise
You will most likely need to perform this exercise in a gym as it requires you to hang from something with your legs off the ground.
The standard gym equipment for this is called a power tower, also known as a knee raise machine or knee raise station and sometimes referred to as a captain’s char.
You will also need good upper body strength. When hanging, you start the exercise by bringing your knees to your chest without using momentum and keeping the upper body straight, holding for a second, then lowering your legs again.
The Captain’s Chair Exercise is 212% better than a traditional crunch for your recuts abdominus and 310% better for your obliques than a traditional crunch.
Abdominal Crunch on an exercise ball
You will find an exercise ball in a gym, or if you could buy one for yourself, an excellent investment I do say! Firstly sit on your ball (the exercise ball) in a comfortable position. Slide your body so you are on top of it, the ball should be somewhere between butt and upper back. The closer the ball is to butt, the more difficult the effort. Now perform a regular crunch – i.e.keep your hips and lower body still, “crunch” forward and lift your shoulder blades off the ball. Hold for 1 second and slowly lower back down to the starting position.
The abdomian crunch on exercise ball is 139% more effective than a traditional crunch for your rectus abdominus muscles and 147% more effective for your obliques.
I have provided links in my signature to demonstrations of these exercises on YouTube, I’m not affiliated with the authors of these videos and have included them only for demonstration purposes.
The purpose of this article is to offer these exercises as for improving your core strength. This in itself is fine, but does not take into account the need for a a training program tailored to your individual needs. If you are unsure about your overall program you should discuss your needs with your coach or a personal fitness instructor.