To runners, a strong, rock hard six-pack means more than just looking good on the beach. Healthy, well-constructed abdominal muscles are essential for effective distance running.
Strong abdominals are important because they help provide good running posture, a stable stride and some degree of protection from lower-back and leg injuries.
Clearly, strengthening the abs is important, but to do so doesn’t require extensive workouts as much as a short, daily routine that you can easily and quickly do after you finish your run and light stretching. As little as 10 minutes a day, is all you’ll need to develop stronger abdominals for better form and more dynamic running.
First, it’s important to know that there are actually four sections of abdominal muscles: the upper abs (muscles that run vertically in the upper middle of the abdomen), lower abs (muscles that run vertically in the lower middle of the abdomen), obliques (muscles along the side of the torso) and the transverse muscles that are the horizontal muscles that form the stomach plate.
These four muscle groups of the abdomen area work together to stabilize your core. They are only as strong as the weakest link so you must target all four groups with every ab workout.
There are four basic ways to work each muscle group of the abdomen that should be done regularly:
- Crunches. These target the upper abs. Crunches have replaced situps as the most direct way to exercise the upper abs. All you need to do is lie flat on your back with your knees bent. Feet should either be flat on the floor or on a chair or low table. Place your hands across your chest. Contract your abs and lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Do this slowly. Hold for three to five seconds and then lower slowly.
- Knee raises. These work the lower abs. Sit on the edge of a chair or bench. Hold onto the sides for support. Keep your back straight. Keep your legs together and extend them down but don’t rest them on the floor. Using only abs, raise your knees to the chest. Hold for three to five seconds and then slowly lower. This one’s hard and may take some practice.
- Bar twists. These work the obliques. Hold an unweighted bar, baseball bat or broom handle on your shoulders behind your neck. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and bend your knees slightly. While keeping your hips stationary, twist at your torso to the left. Then to the right. Repeat several times. Don’t swing your hips with the motion. Do this slowly.
- Suck it in. This is for the transverse muscles. Stand straight with your hands on your hips. Inhale deeply, then exhale but suck your abdomen up and in as far as you can. Hold for 10 seconds, then inhale and relax. Repeat.
You can additional set of crunches by lying flat on the floor. Extend your arms over your head and grasp a medicine ball. Bring your knees up to your chest and in the same motion, curl up toward your knees and bring the medicine ball forward. Don’t bend your back as much as flex it. Do this slowly and deliberately.
You can also do this with a partner. When your curl up, pass the ball forward to your partner.
Do a couple of sets of about 20 of each exercise. Don’t rush through the routine, but do each set slowly and deliberately. If you do these abdominal exercises properly and with regularity, your running muscles will be better balanced, your form will be better and you’ll run with greater strength and energy.