Unfortunately, most athletes avoid or limit core exercises during their performance training. After a long workout, resistance training or core work is the last thing on your mind. The great thing about core exercises is they can be done in your home, at the gym or in your office. The following exercises are designed to increase deep abdominal and back strength and stabilization. These muscles are key for proper hip and spine alignment. Perform these exercises at least two days per week. They can be added to your off day and your other light training day during the week. Again, a healthy core musculature will pay huge dividends during your long season of swimming, biking and running.
#1. Plank with Repetitions
photos courtesy of Health and Fitness Provider Network
As you perform this exercise, make sure you keep your elbows at ninety degrees and looking down. As you lift your hips up, pull your belly button in to activate your deep abdominal muscles (touch your belly-button to your spine). Focus on keeping a straight line from your ears through your shoulders, hips, knee and ankle. The biggest mistake made here is allowing your hips to sink or raise. This will cause pain in the low back and place pressure on the spine, so maintain proper spine alignment. After lifting your hips and extending your legs, pause for two to three seconds and then slowly return to the starting position. Perform 12 to 20 repetitions without sacrificing form. And breathe...
#2. Side Plank with Repetitions
This exercise is perform exactly like the plank only on your side. Again, maintain proper alignment of your head, shoulders, hips, knees, and ankles. Activate your core as you raise your hips and pause for two to three seconds, breathing throughout the movement. The side plank will emphasize the obliques more so than the front plank. Perform 12 to 20 repetitions on each side without sacrificing form.
#3. Ball Cobra
This exercise emphasizes the deep and superficial back musculature. Start prone on the ball in a relaxed position. As you lift your chest off the ball slowly, externally rotate your shoulders and retract your shoulder blades (squeeze shoulder blades together). Hold your finish position for two to three seconds and then lower yourself slowly back to the start. To advance this exercise, simply add small dumbbells for added resistance. Perform 12 to 20 repetitions without sacrificing form.
#4. Cable Chop
The cable chop is adding resistance, therefore is more focused on strengthening key core muscles (opposed to pure stabilization). This exercise will also involve the chest and lats. Start in a relaxed position with your feet shoulder to hip width apart and your toes and knees straight ahead. Pull the weight across the body from your shoulder to your opposing hip. Rotate your hips and and upper-body as you perform the exercise. Return to the starting position slowly. If you do not have access to a cable machine, simply use an exercise band in its place. Perform 10-20 on each side.
Remember, as a triathlete, great form and technique start with a solid foundation. The foundation is your core strength. Without it, you are limiting your potential. When you find yourself long into an international distance or half ironman triathlon, you need your running form and posture to be second nature. If your running form starts to go, chances are you let your core strength program go. Focus on your core and find yourself finishing strong at your next race.
Article written by Nick Clark, MS, PES.
Nick has been in the fitness industry since 2000, working as a personal trainer, fitness manager and an owner of private studios. He has a Bachelors degree in Fitness Leadership from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and a Masters degree in Exercise Science with an emphasis on Performance Enhancement and Injury Prevention from California University of Pennsylvania. Along with personal training and teaching, he and his wife also have a coaching service called Clark Endurance Training. They provide customized coaching programs for athletes who are looking to train for specific running events, triathlons or duathlons. Nick actively trains and competes year round in the sport of triathlon. He and his wife Nicole will travel all over the country competing in races from half marathons to half ironmans. Nick and Nicole own and operate Fitness Together in Lakewood Ranch, FL and live in University Park, FL with their two chocolate labs. Contact Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.