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Core strength training for endurance athletes: A comprehensive guide with 13 exercises
In this comprehensive guide, we dive into the why, what, and how of core strength training for endurance athletes. Get ready to transform your swimming, cycling, and running with our expertly curated list of 13 essential core exercises.
Say goodbye to inefficiencies and hello to a stronger, faster, and more efficient endurance athlete. It’s time to train smarter, not just harder.
- Why is core strength training vital for me as an endurance sports athlete?
- How often should I be training my core?
- How do I incorporate core strength training into my training plan?
- What are the best exercises for core training for endurance athletes?
Why is core strength training vital for me as an endurance sports athlete?
Core strength training helps you as an endurance athlete because the result of a strong core stabilizes the spine and pelvis, improving your posture, balance, and power transfer through the lower body. And a good posture is beneficial for the expansion of your chest, which, in turn, positively impacts your breathing and oxygen uptake.
So having proper core strength is vital for a functioning body.
- In swimming, the core has a central role since it affects your ability to maintain your body position in the water. A strong core also provides you with a better rotation and overall swimming technique.
- When you are cycling, of course, your legs have to work the hardest. But your core muscles must be strong to maintain your position on the bike. Otherwise, the upper body will collapse somewhat, and you will lose power.
- During running, you need stable and supporting musculature in your core to maintain a good posture. If you succeed in this, it results in better breathing and a more efficient running step.
Additionally, a strong core reduces stress on your lower back, and other areas commonly strained during endurance activities, allowing for more efficient movement and reducing fatigue over time.
And that is why core strength training should be an integral part of any endurance training plan.
How often should I be training my core?
When it comes to core strength training, simply going through the motions will not cut it. Instead, you must bring intention and mindfulness to each workout, fully focusing on the muscles you are working on and striving to activate them with precision. This heightened sense of awareness will help you better engage the right muscles, leading to improved results and a rock-solid, resilient core.
But how do you achieve this level of engagement?
We recommend carving out time for core strength training three times per week. This frequency provides the perfect balance between adequate muscle recovery and adaptation while providing ample opportunity to build your core strength and stability.
So, banish distractions and concentrate on feeling each movement as you work towards a stronger, more powerful core.
How do I incorporate core strength training into my training plan?
Including core strength training exercises frequently in your regular endurance training plan is key. And to vary the exercises to target all the different areas of the core muscles.
One way to integrate core strength training is to include it in your warm-up routine. For example, do two exercises, such as mountain climbers and hip thrusters, during days with more challenging workouts. And when the training plan call for a short or less laboring session, you can add your core strength training as an extra workout that same day.
To help you out, we have developed a 4-week core strength training plan. It contains the below 13 core exercises and will strengthen you and make you a more durable athlete. So, sign up for it now!
What are the best exercises for core training for endurance athletes?
The top 3 core strength training exercises are considered to be:
- Plank: A classic exercise that targets the entire core, including the rectus abdominis, obliques, and lower back muscles.
- Deadbug: This exercise focuses on the muscles that control the spine and helps improve stability in the trunk.
- Mountain climbers: This dynamic exercise challenges both the upper and lower core while also engaging the hips, legs, and back muscles.
However, the videos below show our curated list of the 13 best core strength training exercises for you as an endurance athlete. All videos are presented by Ingmarie Nilsson, a former Swedish national champion in the marathon, half-marathon, and cross-country.
Note! For all exercises, remember to keep breathing throughout the movement and avoid holding your breath.
The Plank exercise is performed as follows:
- Start by getting into a push-up position, but instead of lowering yourself to the ground, hold your body straight from head to heels.
- Keep your elbows under your shoulders, your forearms and hands flat on the ground, and your body rigid and straight.
- Engage your core muscles, keeping your back straight and your head aligned with your spine.
- Hold the plank position for 30-60 seconds, or as long as you can maintain proper form.
- Release the plank by lowering your body to the ground.
Note! Keep engaging your core and avoid letting your hips sink or your back arch during the exercise. You can also add a challenge by holding the plank on an unstable surface, such as a stability ball, or by incorporating movements, such as leg raises or arm reaches.
Planks are great, yet only doing planks, regardless of how great they are, get monotonous fast. Following a varied and thought-through core strength training plan will keep training fun and varied.
To perform the Dead bug exercise, follow these steps:
- Start by lying flat on your back with your arms extended overhead and your knees bent to a 90-degree angle, with your shins parallel to the ground.
- Engage your core and slowly lower your right arm and left leg towards the ground, keeping your lower back pressed into the ground.
- Return to the starting position and repeat the movement with your left arm and right leg.
- Continue alternating sides for the desired number of reps.
Note! Avoid arching your lower back off the ground, and keep your neck relaxed and gaze up at the ceiling. This exercise will help strengthen your core and improve your stability.
Dead or not – this bug will strengthen your core. But it is also a great way to learn diagonal movements that will benefit running and swimming! Try it out with many other fun exercises in our 4-week core strength training plan.
The Mountain Climbers exercise is performed as follows:
- Start in a push-up position with your hands placed shoulder-width apart and your feet hip-width apart.
- Keep your core engaged, and bring one knee toward your chest while maintaining a strong plank position.
- Return to the starting position and repeat the motion with the other leg.
- Keep alternating legs, bringing your knees as close to your chest as possible while keeping your upper body stable.
- Continue the movement for the desired repetitions or for a set time.
Note! Keep your hips low and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels throughout the exercise. Remember to breathe regularly and focus on using your core and legs to drive the motion.
This exercise is excellent in many ways and is included in our 4-week core strength training plan. Sure, it is a core exercise. Yet it makes your shoulders stronger, and you will get your heart rate pumping.
The Back extension exercise is performed as follows:
- Start by lying face down on the ground or a stability ball with your hips and abdomen supported.
- Place your hands behind your head, keeping your elbows bent and your gaze forward.
- Engage your glutes and lower back muscles and lift your torso off the ball or ground until your body forms a straight line from your hips to your shoulders.
- Hold the lifted position for a couple of seconds, and then lower your torso back down to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for 8-12 repetitions.
Note! Execute slow and controlled, avoiding any swinging or momentum. Also, keep your neck in a neutral position and avoid straining it during the exercise. You can use weight plates or resistance bands to increase the difficulty.
Back extensions are great for all types of endurance sports. Both your gluteus and erector spinae help you hold a good posture when you get tired. In our 4-week core strength training plan, you will do this and many more exercises that will strengthen your core!
The Hip thruster exercise is performed as follows:
- Start by lying on your back on a flat bench with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground.
- Drive your heels into the ground and lift your hips towards the ceiling, using your glutes and hamstrings to power the movement.
- Pause at the top of the movement, where your hips and knees form a straight line.
- Lower your hips back down to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for 8-12 repetitions.
Note! Engage your core and maintain a neutral spine throughout the movement. Avoid arching your back or rounding your shoulders, as this can increase the risk of injury. To increase difficulty, you can place a barbell or weight plates across your hips or perform the exercise on one leg at a time.
Hip thrusters are a perfect exercise to incorporate into your warm-up routine. Try it out, either next time you run or as one of many varied and great workouts in our 4-week core strength training plan.
Plank with leg raises
The Plank with leg raises exercise is performed as follows:
- Start in a plank position, with your forearms on the ground, elbows directly under your shoulders, and legs extended behind you.
- Engage your core and maintain a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Slowly raise one leg off the ground, keeping your foot flexed and maintaining proper form.
- Pause for a moment, then slowly lower your leg back to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise with the other leg.
- Continue alternating legs, performing 8-12 repetitions on each side.
Note! This is a challenging exercise. So keep your core engaged and your hips level throughout the movement. Avoid sagging at the hips or rotating your body as you raise your leg. To increase the difficulty, you can place a stability ball or other object under your feet for added instability.
Did you know that our 4-week core strength training plan comes in two different difficulty levels? Check it out!
The Side Plank exercise is performed as follows:
- Start by lying on your side, propping yourself up on your elbow and keeping your feet stacked.
- Lift your hips off the ground, keeping your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, or as long as you can maintain proper form.
- Lower your hips back to the ground, and repeat the exercise on the other side.
Note! Keep your core muscles engaged, and avoid letting your hips sag during the exercise. You can also add a challenge by lifting the top leg or arm or holding a weight in the top hand. Remember to keep breathing throughout the exercise and avoid holding your breath.
We have incorporated the exercise into our 4-week core strength training plan.
The Bicycle Crunch exercise is performed as follows:
- Lie flat on a mat with your lower back pressed into the ground.
- Place your hands behind your head, and bring your knees towards your chest.
- Straighten your right leg while bringing your left knee towards your chest and lifting your shoulder blades off the ground.
- Touch your left elbow to your right knee while extending your right leg.
- Switch sides, bringing your right elbow to your left knee while extending your left leg.
- Continue the movement, alternating sides in a pedaling motion, for the desired number of repetitions.
Note! Keep your lower back pressed into the ground throughout the exercise. Use your abdominal muscles to control the motion rather than pulling on your neck with your hands. Breathe smoothly and controlled, and focus on engaging your core with each repetition.
This exercise is not just marvelous for cyclists. This is a tough one, but master it, and you will get super strong in all other disciplines in endurance sports. Try it, and many more great exercises in our 4-week core strength training plan.
To perform a Butt ups core exercise, follow these steps:
- Start by lying flat on your back with your legs extended and your arms straight overhead.
- Engage your core and glutes, and use your lower body to push yourself off the ground.
- Keep your arms relaxed as you lift your torso, hips, and legs toward the ceiling.
- Once you have reached the top of the movement, pause for a moment and lower yourself back down to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps.
Note! Move controlled and slow to avoid swinging your arms or legs for momentum. Instead, focus on using your glutes and core to lift your body rather than relying on your arms or legs. This exercise will help strengthen your core and glutes and can also help improve your balance and stability.
Little things make a huge difference. This exercise may not seem like much, but it will make your muscles burn and your core super strong!
Do you want a kick start with your core training? Try our 4-week core strength training plan.
To perform Jackknife crunches, follow these steps:
- Start by lying flat on your back with your arms extended overhead and your legs straight.
- Engage your core and simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the ground, bringing them towards each other so that your hands and feet meet in a “V” shape.
- Pause briefly at the top of the movement, then slowly lower your arms and legs back down to the starting position.
- Repeat the exercise for the desired number of reps.
Note! Go slow and controlled to avoid using momentum to complete the rep. Focus on engaging your abs and keeping your neck relaxed throughout the exercise. If needed, modify the movement by keeping your arms or legs on the ground for stability.
The great thing about core training is that you can vary the difficulty of the exercises so that they suit your level. For example, Jackknife crunches can vary in difficulty level by where you put your hands.
Try this and many more fantastic exercises in our 4-week core strength training plan.
Standing on all fours with raising knees
To perform Standing on all fours with raising knees, follow these steps:
- Start on all fours with your hands positioned directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips.
- Tighten the trunk and hold that activation as you lift your knees from the ground (a few centimeters).
- Maintain that abdominal pressure and balance.
- Then raise one hand and touch the opposite knee if you feel you have the core balance.
- Keep your body stable throughout the movement, and switch hands.
Note! Avoid swinging or arching your back, and keep your neck relaxed and gaze down at the ground. This exercise will help strengthen your core and improve your stability.
This will give you tremendous body control and body awareness. Two things that will benefit you greatly in your everyday life and training. We include this exercise in our 4-week core strength training plan and as part of your warm-up routine before training.
Plank with a touch
To perform a Plank with a touch core exercise, follow these steps:
- Start in a high plank position with your arms straight and hands positioned directly under your shoulders.
- Your legs should be extended behind you, and your body should be straight from head to heels.
- Keep your core engaged, and lift your right hand to touch your left shoulder.
- Return your right hand to its starting position and repeat the movement with your left hand, touching your right shoulder.
- Continue alternating sides for the desired number of reps.
Note! Maintain a stable, straight plank position throughout the exercise and avoid moving or twisting your hips. Keep your neck relaxed and gaze down at the ground. This exercise will help strengthen your core and improve your stability.
Plank with a touch, a touch of madness? We are joking, but it is a bit mad that such a slight difference can significantly impact the difficulty level of an exercise.
Try it out with many other fun exercises in our 4-week core strength training plan.
Side plank with a twist
To perform a Side plank with a twist exercise, follow these steps:
- Start in a side plank position with your feet stacked, one on the other, and your left elbow positioned directly under your shoulder.
- Your right arm should be extended straight up towards the ceiling.
- Keep your core engaged and hips lifted, and reach your right arm under your left side and touch the ground.
- Return your right arm to its starting position and repeat the movement for the desired reps.
- After completing the desired reps, switch sides and repeat the exercise with your right elbow positioned under your shoulder and your left arm reaching under your right side.
Note! Keep your body straight and avoid moving or dropping your hips during the exercise. Keep your neck relaxed and gaze forward. This exercise will help strengthen your core, obliques and improve your stability.
Try this exercise before a swim session or as part of your core training. If you need inspiration, sign up for our 4-week core strength training plan.