Whether you’re intent on sculpting a six-pack or want to improve your strength in general, working your abs is a solid idea. Our core is at the center of our beings, so naturally we rely on it for many of our daily life tasks. According to Harvard Medical School’s Healthbeatpublication, we use our abs for a plethora of basic functions, such as getting dressed and housework, and core strength is very important to maintaining a healthy back and proper posture, keeping your balance and lessening the risk of injury. Fitnessalso claims that having a strong core can improve heart health and digestion.
Runners, take note: According to Fitness, “One Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research study found runners had faster times running 5,000 meters after six weeks of core strength training.” In addition, running coach Carl Leivers tells Competitor, “[Core] muscles are vital and they don’t always get worked enough with just running… If you don’t have hours to spend in the gym it’s always best to focus on core muscles — and not just abs. Back muscles are just as important and are often ignored.”
It’s important to do the right workouts for your needs. In an article for Running Times, chiropractor Carla Cupido and certified strength and conditioning specialist Jon-Erik Kawamoto advise runners to choose exercises that build core endurance to decrease the risk of injury and discuss the importance of learning how to properly brace the abdominal muscles to promote stability and stay safe throughout your workout. Cupido and Kawamoto also recommend that runners choose exercises that focus on functional movement, such as the axe chop, saying that typical core exercises such as situps “result in excessive compressive and shear forces on the spine, which can result in significant spinal injury.” Both Running Times and Competitor highlight some key core strengthening moves that may benefit runners such as the Superman, Bird Dogs and Russian twists, and we have some pre- and post-run exercises to promote core strength and flexibility.
Pilates is an excellent way to gain core strength. There are also some other benefits you stand to gain from practicing Pilates. Men’s Fitness reveals that, in addition to strengthening the core, Pilates strengthens the pelvic floor, so “men who practice it have greater control of this region of the body,” and it promotes flexibility and increased range of motion.
Try incorporating some Pilates mat work into your routine. This video from BeFit’s YouTube channel shows the grande dame of mat Pilates, Mari Winsor, guiding dancer Kym Johnson through three essential Pilates moves — the Pilates 100, Criss-Cross and Side Kick — with a focus on proper form and modifications for advancement.
Cassey Ho, creator of workout phenomenon Blogilates, has tons of abdominal exercise videos for you to choose from that encompass a range of fitness levels. Beginners, check out the Blogilates beginner series, including the Ab Time video. This is a great primer for newcomers as well as a fun refresher on proper form. Ho breaks down each move and demonstrates advanced progressions, so beginners have something to work toward and more advanced practitioners can challenge themselves. She has even done a Blogilates session with Tony Horton, creator of P90X. You can also check out Horton’s Pilates video showcasing five tough but effective Pilates moves that will whip your abs into shape.
Strength training is another option for building a strong, stable core. Speaking of P90X, Tony Horton has a challenging ab workout on his YouTube channel for when you’re ready to take your core to the next level. Bodybuilding.com has an extensive library of abdominal exercise tutorials, complete with demo videos for men and women. You can also filter them by fitness level and equipment needed. For those who choose classic strength training moves such as situps and crunches, check out our tips on proper form and movement.
Safety is key to building a strong, healthy core. It’s important to know your body and what muscles you are working for each exercise. Bodybuilding.com has an interactive anatomy map that highlights each area of the abdominals, giving you a visual for understanding exactly what it means when a trainer says you’re working your oblique muscles or transverse abdominis. And, as always, check with your doctor before performing any of these exercises and choose exercises that suit your current fitness level.