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Revealed: The 6 Best Beginner’s Exercises for You to Get a Strong Core

Revealed: The 6 Best Beginner’s Exercises for You to Get a Strong Core

Ab season is quickly approaching. For some, it’s a time for lazy days spent in a bikini or a breezy shirtless run at sunset. For others, it’s a time for weak dieting attempts and sad, sporadic bouts of ab exercises. The result, most likely, will be a two pack (if you’re lucky) by summer’s end.

This article is for those of us who want to look good and find ourselves frustrated by the never-ending quest for the perfect midsection.

What Exactly Do We Mean by Core Muscles?

The abs (a.k.a. the abdominal muscles) are only a small fraction of your core muscles.[1] Your core is a complex series of muscles that includes your entire trunk region. It involves everything except your arms and legs. It is involved in almost every movement of the human body.

The diagram below gives a general overview of the muscles that make up your core:

    Having A Strong Core Isn’t Just for Looking Great. It Has Much to Do with Your Health!

    Our core has three-dimensional depth and functionality. Many of the core muscles are hidden beneath the exterior musculature, underpinning everything you do.

    Here are a few health benefits of having a strong core:

    • It prevents back injury and eliminates back pain. Your core is your body’s stabilizer. Most back pain and injuries are caused by postural alignment problems[2] or poor posture. Poor posture is the result of weak lower back muscles.[3] A strong core is your spine’s best friend.
    • It helps you perform everyday functions more efficiently and without pain. No matter where motion begins, it flows up and down the adjoining links of the chain – which is your core. Weak or inflexible core muscles can impair how well your arms and legs function. The ability to bend down to put on shoes, turn and look behind you, sit in a chair, take a bath, dress yourself, or simply stand still all heavily depend on your core.
    • It improves posture. Weak core muscles contribute to slouching. Maintaining good posture is important because it lessens wear and tear on the spine and assists in your ability to breathe deeply.
    • It improves athletic performance. Strengthening your core makes your workout more effective and efficient. A strong flexible core provides stability, prevents injury, and improves your range of motion.
    • It improves physical appearance. Having a great physique isn’t and shouldn’t be the top reason for having a strong core, but it definitely is a motivator. A firm and flexible midsection makes you look taller, thinner, stronger, and more confident.

    Common Core Myths You Need to Stop Believing

    Now that you understand why having a strong, flexible core is important, you’re probably ready to hop on the floor and start banging out some crunches.

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    Slow down tiger. Before you begin working on your abs let’s discuss some popular misconceptions on training your core.

    • Core strengthening exercises are the key to flat abs. Abs don’t come from the gym; they come from the kitchen.[4] The portion of the abs that are visible (or that you want to be visible) are hidden beneath a layer of fat. This means you have to reduce your body fat. This is done by exercising and by eating clean. Eliminate processed foods and follow this one simple rule: If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.
    • Sit-ups and crunches are the key to great abs. Huffington Post writer Ben Greenfield[5] gave the perfect illustration on why crunches are not only ineffective but harmful to your back over an extended period of time. He says,

    “Imagine your spine is a credit card. In the same way that repeatedly flexing and extending a credit card will eventually lead to wearing out of the plastic, repeatedly doing crunches can put damaging strain on your back.”

    • Isolation exercises work best. Wrong! Your core is the body’s stabilizer and force transfer center and not a primary mover.[6] This means instead of doing hundreds of isolated exercises such as crunches or back extensions you should perform functional, compound movements like deadlifts, overhead squats, and pushups.

    Best Core Exercises for Beginners

    Now you know what your core is, understand how it functions, and are eating clean, it’s time to hit the gym! Below are some of the best core exercises for newbies:

    1. Low Plank

      The plank is one of the best exercises you can do for your core because it builds isometric strength and helps sculpt your waistline and improve your posture. It is a 360 core toner, meaning that it targets the muscles all the way around the core. It also targets your glutes and shoulders.

      During this exercise remember to keep your breathing slow and controlled. Try to maintain a straight line from your head to your toes.

      How to:

      • Start in pushup position on the floor.
      • Now bend your elbows 90 degrees and rest your weight on your forearms. Your elbows should be directly beneath your shoulders, and your body should form a straight line from your head to your feet.
      • Hold the position for as long as possible being careful not to allow your hips to raise or sink.
      • Try to maintain a straight line. Your goal should be to work up to holding it for two minutes.

      Modification: Standard Plank form is a great modification for this move (remain in pushup position with hands positioned directly beneath your shoulders).

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      2. Bird Dog Crunch

      Bird Dog Crunch strengthens the lower back and abdominals while improving balance and stability.

      The first tip in practicing Bird Dog Crunch is to make sure you are on a mat or soft surface. During the movement be mindful of your breathing. Inhale as you tuck under and exhale while extending your opposite arm and leg out. Make sure that as you extend your arm and leg you are tucking your belly button in to keep your back strong and stable. Also try and be as still as possible as you move. Don’t allow your back to move side to side.

      How To:

      • Kneel on the mat on all fours. Reach one arm straight forward, drawing in the abs, and extend the opposite leg straight behind you, keeping it in the air.
      • Then bring the elbow and knee in towards your center. Try to get them to touch. As you round your back remember to draw in your abs. Repeat 10 reps then switch sides.

      Modification: When extending your leg behind you allow, it to touch the floor.

      3. Standing Bicycle Crunch

      This move targets the obliques and rotational trunk muscles. It also improves balance and coordination. Because this is a standing move, it lowers the risk of neck strain and lower back injury.

      When preforming the Standing Bicycle Crunch be sure to keep your abs tight through out the entire movement. Also, this move should be performed in a slow and controlled manner. The slower you go the harder your abs work.

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      How To:

      • Stand up straight with your feet shoulder-width apart and toes pointing forward.
      • Place your fingertips behind your neck with your elbows pointing out to the sides, in line with your shoulders. Inhale and contract (tighten) your core.
      • Raise your right knee up across the body as high as you can to your chest. Simultaneously twist your torso to the right and draw your left elbow toward the lifted knee so that you can feel the crunch. Exhale during the movement.

      Modification: Perform the move with one hand against the wall.

      4. Alternating Seated Leg Lifts

      Seated leg lifts work your abdominals, lower abdominal region, pelvic muscles, and your hamstrings.

      When performing this move be careful not to hold your breath and try not to lean back to far.

      How To:

      • Sit on the floor, legs extended straight out in front of you. Keeping your core engaged, lean back slightly, so you’re able to place your hands on either side of your glutes.
      • Take a deep breath and lift one leg six inches off the ground and hold for five seconds, and then put it down. Repeat with the other leg.
      • Continue alternating for one minute, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat for five rounds.

      Modification: Alternate lifting your legs without stopping to hold.

      5. Spider Plank Crunch

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      The Spider Plank Crunch is another 360 core exercise. It targets the entire abdominal region (upper and lower), the obliques, lower back, and the glutes.

      Try not to allow your hips to sink or raise when you are bringing your knee to your elbow. Also, fight to keep your body parallel at all times.

      How To:

      • Begin in a high plank or pushup position – hands directly underneath your shoulders, legs extended backward with your toes on the ground. Body is in a straight line.
      • Lift your right leg and bring your knee toward the outside of your right arm. Return to plank position.
      • Repeat the movement with the other leg. Do five reps on each side.

      Modification: Begin in modified pushup position (both knees on the ground) and perform the move from your knees.

      6. Modified Bicycle Crunch

        This move targets the upper and lower abs, the obliques, and hip-flexors. It also targets the “posture muscles” and incorporates small amounts of balance.

        When doing this movement, remember to keep it smooth. The movement should be slow and controlled. Try not to jerk or over-twist your torso. Exhale when you crunch in and inhale on the extension.

        How To:

        • Start in a neutral sitting position. Your knees should be bent, heels flat on the floor and hands on either side of your head.
        • Bring the right knee and left elbow toward one another, by gently twisting the torso.
        • Repeat the motion on the other side. Alternate for 30 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat. Complete five rounds.

        Modification: Place hands on the ground behind you instead of behind your head.

        Performing these exercises a few times a week along with small amounts of aerobic exercise and a proper diet will yield you a stronger core and a leaner, tighter torso.

        Reference

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        Published on August 16, 2019

        15 Strength Training Exercises Specifically for Runners

        15 Strength Training Exercises Specifically for Runners

        When you choose the right exercises, and make strength training a priority, it will have a great payoff to improve your running. Studies have shown incorporating a strength training program to your running routine improves running economy.[1]

        Here are 15 strength training exercises specifically for runners.

        1. Planks

        The plank is a very important core exercise that will help give you more control and balance while running. Having a strong core will also keep you more stable and in control if you have to navigate uneven surfaces.

        The plank is a simple exercise and involved balancing on your forearms and the tips of your toes, so that your back is “straight as a plank”. You want to focus on keeping your abs tight and imagine sucking your belly button up into your spine to have them properly engaged.

        Aim for 30 to 45 seconds for a few rounds. Ultimately, you want to hold them as long as you can with proper form – so every time you perform a plank you want to go a little longer than previous ones.

        2. Side Planks

        The same concept is applied but you are now engaging your core in a different manner and engaging your oblique muscles too. This time, you are going to lie on your side with your legs stacked on top of each other.

        You will lean on your right forearm and lift your hips off the ground keeping your head lined up with your torso and ankles. Keep your other hand on your hip to help ,and control balance, and focus on not moving or swaying. Keep your abs tight to engage them and hold for 30-45 seconds, or longer if you can.

        3. Clamshells

        For this exercise, you are going to need a simple resistance band. Start with the band wrapped around both legs just below the knee. Your starting position will be on the ground lying on your side with your top hip and shoulder pointing towards the ceiling. Your hips will be on the ground, keep your back straight and your feet together, and lift up with your top knee as far as you can with the resistance.

        Pause for a second at the top and lower back down under control. You can do 10 reps on this side before switching over and doing another 10 reps and aim for 2 to 3 sets.

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        Clamshells are going to help strengthen your abductor muscles giving you stronger hips and more stability while running.

        4. Single-Leg Bridge

        You will start lying on your back with your feet on the ground, shoulder-width apart with knees bent. You will straighten out one leg so it’s out in front of you in the air and lift your body up by pushing with the leg on the ground.

        You want to flex your abs and glutes while pushing upward and try to keep your hips level throughout the motion before returning to the ground. You can also hold your body in the upright position for 5-10 seconds before returning to the ground to get more engagement before switching over to the other leg.

        The single-leg bridge will help strengthen your glutes which are crucial for running power and stride strength.

        5. Standing Calf Raises

        This is a simple exercise but one that is very important for strengthening the calves. The stronger they are, the less fatigue you will experience during running. You will need to find an elevated step or platform for this exercise.

        Stand on the platform with your heels hanging off the edge. Find something stable to hold on to for balance and start by lower your heels down until you feel a stretch in the back of your calves. Then, stand upwards like you are trying to see over a fence. Perform 3 sets of 10 repetitions.

        6. Arch Lifting

        You will start out standing with your feet directly under your hips, and this is best done without shoes. You will rotate the arch of your foot upward while keeping your toes and heels in contact with the ground.

        Don’t let your toes tighten and you want to hold for a few seconds at the top before returning to the ground. You can do 3 sets of 10 repetitions and this is going to help strengthen the arches of your feet.

        The stronger your arches are the better it is to keep your running stride strong and prevent less fatigue in the feet.

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        7. Half-Kneel Hip Flexor Stretch

        Strong hips are paramount for running and the hip flexors can easily become strained and overused. This exercise will help to strengthen them and provide more power and stability while running. You will start kneeling with one foot forward and the other knee bent underneath the hip.

        Keep your abs tight, your back straight, and shift your body weight forward until you feel a stretch in the front of your hips. Hold this for 20 to 30 seconds before switching over to the other leg.

        8. Alternating Lunges

        These are going to develop power and strength in your quads and glutes to help give you a more powerful stride. You will start standing with your hands on your hips looking straight out in front of you.

        Step forward with your right leg and lower down just before your opposite knee touches the ground. Then, push through your heel to return to the standing position before performing the lunge with your left leg. Alternate between the right and left leg so that each one has done 10 reps and you can perform 3 sets of this.

        9. Jump Squats

        These can be done just with your bodyweight and help to develop explosive power in the lower body. The jump squat is handy for when you have to run hills and need more power for harder stretches of your run.

        The best way is to start in a squat position with your feet shoulder-width apart. You will drive through the heels of your feet and explode upwards. As your bodyweight brings you back to the ground, control your weight as you go back into the squat position to fully engage the muscles.

        Make sure not to let your knees move inwards and keep your abs tight, your head up, and your chest out. Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.

        10. Skater Hops

        This will help to build leg and core strength, along with improving balance. You will start standing upright but then bending the knees slight like you’re about to sit down. You will then drive off your right foot, jumping a few feet out to the left.

        You will land on your left foot while your right foot swings behind your left leg. Then, drive off the left foot using the momentum of your right foot swinging back to land back on it. You will keep doing these side hops for ten times each leg and the motion should look like a speed skater shifting side to side.

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        11. Bulgarian Split Squat

        This will be similar to the lunges but, will really ramp up the resistance for the quads and is a great strength training exercise for runners. You are going to need an elevated surface or bench to stand in front of. The starting position will be standing upright with your head up and hands on your hips.

        Start with your right foot behind you supported by the bench. You will start by lowering your hips to drops your left leg down to around a 90-degree angle, stopping just before your right knee hits the ground.

        Next, push up through the heel until you are back at the starting position and perform ten reps, under control, before you switch over to the right leg. Perform 3 sets of this.

        To make this even tougher, you can hold dumbbells in your hands hanging at your sides.

        12. Arabesque

        These will help in activating and controlling your hips. You will start off by standing on one leg, hands on your hips, and making sure your hips are level and balanced. You can then put your arms out to the side to give you more balance.

        Start by tipping your torso forward as your non-weight-bearing leg extends out behind you. You can slightly bend your knee to help with control and you want to have your back and extended leg as level as possible. You should end up basically parallel to the floor with your shoulder, hip, and ankle should be in a straight line.

        When you’ve gone as far forward as you can, return to the starting position and perform 8 repetitions before switching to the other leg.

        Perform 2 to 3 sets. These are all about quality over quantity so if you can only do 4 or 5, that’s fine.

        13. Hip Bridge

        This is another great exercise to target the glutes which are the source of your running power. Start by lying on the ground with your feet flat on the ground and your knees bent. Squeeze your glutes and then lift your hips up towards the ceiling.

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        Your hips, knees, and shoulders should be in a straight line. Hold at the top for a second and then lower back down under control. Perform this 12 times and then, you can do 3 sets. If these get easier, you can hold a weight across your stomach for more resistance.

        14. Push-Ups

        A classic exercise, and for good reason. As much as you want to focus your strength training on the lower body, you can’t neglect your upper body. Your arms are helping drive and propel you while running and a strong upper body helps with your overall balance and stability.

        You can start laying facedown on the ground with your palms facing downwards and elbows tucked into your sides. Focus on pushing through the heel of your palms upward, stopping just before your elbows lock out. Lower back down under control and stop just before your chest touches the ground.

        Focus on keeping the elbows tucked into your side and avoid having them flail outwards. You can perform 10 reps for 3 sets of these.

        15. Squat to Overhead Press

        This is a full-body motion that works a majority of muscles, builds power, explosiveness, and coordination. You will need two dumbbells and you will start standing, feet shoulder-width apart, with the dumbbells, held up by your shoulders – palms facing forward.

        Send your hips back and lower down into a squat until your thighs are parallel to the floor. As you stand up, press the dumbbells overhead and return them to the starting position. Go for 10 reps and three sets.

        The Bottom Line

        As much as you’d like to, you can’t be running all the time. It can lead to overuse, injuries and burnout. The perfect way to offset this is with strength training, making sure you perform your training with proper form and technique, avoiding mistakes which can lead to injury.

        There are many other strength exercises such as the deadlift, which works the back and leg muscles which are vital for running economy improvement and injury prevention.[2] These exercises will make you a more efficient and resilient runner allowing you to improve your distances and times.

        Even if you’ve been against strength training for runners, you can see now how it’s necessary in order to improve your overall running ability and performance.

        Featured photo credit: Stage 7 Photography via unsplash.com

        Reference

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