No matter what kind of athlete you are, no matter what sport, or how “good” you are, having a strong core is one of the most helpful things that you can do beside practicing the sport you do… Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, triathlete, swimmer, tennis player, golfer… no matter what, it’s really key to have a strong torso, so that you can do the moves you need to do, do them powerfully, and do them without pain or back problems.
For most endurance athletes, I would try to do what you can to identify 2 or 3 days each week where you can set aside at least 10m of time to work on your core (abs, obliques, back, etc.). It doesn’t have to be crazy or require a lot of equipment. If you have a boot camp workout or class you can go to, or you have a favorite routine that you can do at home or at the gym that takes longer than that, by all means, do yourself a favor and go with it. More can be better, but doing something and doing it consistently is better than doing something sporadically or not at all.
My go-to routine, that I’d offer as a starting point goes like this:
push-ups (as many as I can do repeatedly for 3 sets)
front planks (for about as long as I can until my form starts to deteriorate)
back extensions (lie down face first and raise head and shoulders in a controlled fashion… again, as many as I can for 3 sets)
bent over row (bend over a chair or bench with a dumbbell, as many as I can repeat for 3 sets)
Russian twists (sit in a crunch position with a dumbbell and twist slowly from side to side to work the abs and obliques)
repeat (you guessed it, 2 more times for a count of 3 sets)
The whole thing might take 15-20m max. If you don’t have dumbbells, they’re cheap and cost less than a month at the gym. Or, if you still don’t have any, just do body weight stuff and it’ll be great. If you have a pull-up bar, then you could add a TRX style suspension trainer to hang from the bar and use for planks when they get too easy. If you’re suspended, the extra instability makes your muscle engagement reach higher levels and the same amount of time is a much better workout than doing it on solid ground.
Keep it simple. Come up with a routine that you can do regularly, without pain, and have some fun doing it. Listen to music if you like. That’s always a favorite. Or listen to the news or a podcast. Just be sure that you keep moving and don’t get distracted… Just do each movement, flip over or sit up for a quick second and move on to the next. If you need to take a quick break between moves to take a few breaths at first, then do it. After some practice, you shouldn’t need more than a few moments to move from one thing to the next. I’m always in favor of quick, efficient workouts, so I can get things done and get on with other things in my life.
Believe me, if you do something like this or your own variation 2-3x weekly for 10 or even 20m, you will feel better throughout your life because you’ll feel stronger, your back will hurt less, and you will be stronger and more powerful at your chosen sport.
As a little bonus, here’s a video I made on the topic. It’s a favorite topic that comes up a lot, so I really hope that some of the above or this video are useful to you!!! Happy training!
Bonus anecdotal coaching commentary:
Personally, whenever I’ve had a gym membership and have gone to do some basic whole body conditioning or leg work, I always enjoy running to the gym, doing 15m or so of core work, and then doing my leg or body work. I would sometimes just add a couple of sets of core exercises after the workout if I had time and energy as a bonus. I love doing that in training generally. If you have extra time and energy and you have a workout that day, then go for it and do some extra. If it’s a recovery day, then make sure that you have energy for the next workout, but if you can add a few miles without taking away from tomorrow’s workout, then go for it.
Lately, I’ve been focused more on my work and have been training to stay fit, but haven’t been able to train as hard as I would want in order to be in top shape. Still, I try to get in a little core work when I can. Honestly, I haven’t been able to do nearly as much as I would like. And, there’s a part of my brain that tells me that I’m failing at something for missing out on that core work, but we should always question or dismiss that part of our brain. Whenever you feel yourself getting uncomfortable or feeling regret about not doing core work or getting in your training session yesterday, tell your brain that it’s in the past and you only care about what’s happening right now and how it sets you up for the future. For me, that means taking a step forward and doing some core work tonight an hour or two before bedtime. Who cares if I didn’t do any since last week. I’m going to do some tonight. We should always just do what we can to take action on our goals or priorities and not worry about doing more than we actually can or what we think we “should” be doing. That’s just noise. Take action and do what you can. Don’t let your brain second-guess you as you follow through on your intentions to do something.