This article follows up on a previous article on the benefits that core strength can offer to distance running performance.
In it, I covered how core strength can improve efficiency, posture, balance and stability and also mentioned some activities for improving core strength, namely gym training, pilates and yoga, floor exercises and cross training.
Today’s article will introduce three specific exercises that have been scientifically proven as the best at working your core muscles.
What I try to do, when beginning a program, is to start on the most effective exercise (usually the hardest) for my goal and work up to doing more reps over time.
Many people, when starting an exercise program tend to start with easy exercises first with the intention of moving to more advanced exercises as their fitness improves. While this seems reasonable and logical in theory, in practice what usually happens is they never move past that initial stage, or even worse quit their program entirely when they do not experience any improvement.
While I am as reluctant as anyone when trying something new, especially something hard, I believe that being too timid can be detrimental to improvement. By setting the the bar too low, it is too easy to become complacent and never progress past the easy exercises that don’t give you much benefit.
I concede, I usually cannot do many reps when I start and that’s ok, because I’m just starting out. I know I will get stronger over time.
If I only do 5 repetitions. The next time I’ll try for 6, then 8 the time after that and so on…
But while I advocate not starting out too timid, I also want to make it clear that this isn’t the same as pushing yourself to extreme limits. From years of personal experience, I have learned that when starting new exercises is concerned, erring on the side of conservatism is usually the best policy.
So I advise you start off with the most specific exercise for your goal…. BUT don’t go crazy when you’re starting out.
In this case, I refer to core strength exercises, here are the three which have been scientifically proven to be the best.
These exercises are rated in two different areas of muscle groups. Your rectus abdominus or six-pack and obliques which are more to the side and behind the rectus obdominus.
While most people tend to be obsessed with building muscle and dream of nothing other than getting six-pack abs, for good posture and all the other benefits of core strength training it’s important to work both your obliques and your rectus abdominus.
Incidentally, abdominal exercises are measured using a practice called electromyography (EMG) and are rated in comparison to the traditional crunch. The crunch, while popular in mainstream abdominal training programs is actually far from the best of the bunch, in fact it is not even in the top three!
Ok, onto the exercises!
Bicycle Crunches is the KING of abdominal exercises!
To perform this exercise:
- Lie on your back as if to do a regular crunch
- Place your hands behind your head for support then bend your knees 90 degrees
- Raise your left knee, while at the same time bringing your right elbow to your left knee
- Alternate: right knee to left elbow, left knee to right elbow and over and over
The bicycle crunch exercise resembles a peddling action and can be done without expensive gym equipment.
The Bicycle crunch rates 248% better than a crunch for your rectus abdominus and 290% better than a crunch for your obliques.
Hanging Knee Raises or Captain’s Chair Exercise
This is probably one for the gym as you need to hang from something with your feet off the ground.You will also need sufficient upper body strength.
To perform hanging knee raises:
- While hanging, bring your knees to your chest, but don’t use momentum
- Keeping your upper body straight, hold for a second
- Lowering your legs again
This 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
This exercise requires an exercise ball. Consider purchasing an exercise ball as a long term investment in your fitness, or head to your local gym.
- Sit on the 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
- Perform a regular crunch: Ensure that your hips and lower body remain still, as you “crunch” forward, lifting your shoulder blades off the ball
- Hold this position for about a second then slowly return to the starting position
This exercise is 139% more effective than a traditional crunch for rectus abdominus, 147% more effective for obliques.
These exercises are offered for the purpose of improving your core strength. These do not take into account the many factors that go into an individual training program. If you are unsure about your overall program, I would strongly advise you see a running coach or personal fitness instructor.
If you’re thinking about heading to the gym, you might want to consider yoga pants. Yoga pants are designed specifically for yoga workouts but they are versatile enough to accommodate many other forms of exercise like dancing, aerobics and kickboxing.