We all want a solid core for different reasons: sports performance, pain prevention—but strengthening your midsection is particularly important for runners. That’s because your core is the stabilizing center of your body (it keeps you standing, least of all sprinting), and it can make or break your speed goals, or prevent (or contribute to!) an injury.
But if you’re searching for a lower ab workout, we need to get one thing out of the way first: “Lower abs exercises” aren’t really a thing. “Your core is comprised of the rectus abdominis, which runs down the front of your body and creates that ‘six-pack’ effect; your obliques (side abs); your erector spinae, which runs up your back; and your transverse abdominis (the deep core located under those six-pack muscles),” says Lindsey Clayton, a certified run coach and senior instructor at Barry’s in New York City. “When people point to the lower part of their stomach and say their ‘lower abs,’ they’re really just referring to their rectus abdominis, and you can’t only work the lower part in isolation.”
That said, there are plenty of core exercises—both creative and classic—that engage your rectus abdominis, including the lower part, and make you a stronger runner.
“While it's important to work your whole core for a balanced body, there are certain exercises that utilize the lower part of the rectus abdominis,” Clayton says. “These ‘lower abs’ exercises are great for runners because they often involve driving your knee up towards your core, stimulating the motion of running.” (See: mountain climbers.)
How to use this list: Clayton suggests doing each exercise in the lower abs workout below for 30 to 45 seconds before every run. “This will fire up your muscles so they’re active when you need them most,” Clayton says. Clayton even demonstrates them herself, so you can nail the perfect form. You will need a mat and a set of sliders. Two hand towels or paper plates will work, too.
Start in a high plank position then send hips back and hike them up to downward dog position, biceps turned towards ears and fingers pushed into floor. Lift right leg straight into air, then drive right knee to touch right elbow as you shift weight forward to your hands. Return to downward dog and repeat with left leg. Continue to alternate.
Start in a side plank with left forearm on floor, elbow under shoulder, feet stacked, and hips lifted so body forms one long, straight line. Stretch right arm up to ceiling. This is your starting position. Draw the right hand down and reach it below left underarm as you curl upper body forward so shoulders are parallel to floor. Return to starting position. Repeat for 30 seconds on each side.
On hardwood or tiled floor, place feet on two sliders (or towels) and assume a forearm plank position (elbows under shoulders, core and butt engaged). Using your core, lift hips up to pike, sliding feet forward and pulling your belly button in toward spine. Slide back to lower hips to plank position. Repeat.
On hardwood or tiled floor, place feet on two sliders and assume a high plank position (hands under shoulders, soft bend in elbows, butt and core engaged). Pull feet in toward chest, bending knees until you’re in a bear plank, knees below hips, but still lifted off floor. Slowly push feet back to high plank. Continue to repeat. To make it easier, move one leg at a time.
Start lying faceup on the mat. Lift head, shoulder blades, and feet off floor as you extend arms straight out. Neck should be relaxed, not strained. This is your hollow hold. Next, engage abs to lift chest towards legs as you bend knees so that body forms a V shape and shins are parallel to floor. Slowly lower back down to a hollow hold position and repeat.
Lie faceup with feet flexed in the air so body creates a 90-degree angle and arms are rested palms down at sides. Use core to pulse legs straight up towards ceiling, lifting butt off floor and pushing weight into hands. Think about stamping the bottom of your shoes on the ceiling and avoid using momentum to swing legs forward and up. Lower back to floor and repeat.
Start in a high plank position with hands under shoulders, soft bend in elbows, and core and butt engaged. Draw right knee to left elbow. Return to high plank position. Draw left knee to right elbow. Continue to alternate. Increase speed for more cardio.
All images: Julia Hembree Smith