6 Pack Abs and a Stronger Core

Big Blue Adventure Ambassador had this article featured in Competitor Magazine.

1.   How common is the goal of getting 6-pack abs/a stronger core among the runners/triathletes you work with? Why? ??I think that in the past decade or so runners have become significantly more aware of the necessity of a strong core in the elite levels of competitive running, and I think that most runners (even recreational runners) have learned to attach some value to core strength. The reality is that the abdominal wall and core musculature are the foundation for all locomotive movements, and a stronger core will make you a faster runner. Core strength and stability are even more paramount on the trails, where a strong core may save you from a spill or two and keep your body injury-free through the running season.

Now, 6-pack abs are a different story. I know most (male) runners will undoubtedly profess to wanting 6-pack abs, I don’t think most will define success by how visible their “vanity abs” are. If I offered any of my running clients the choice between a chiseled 6-pack or a strong core with less definition but faster mile splits? I can assure you they would all choose the latter.

2. What advice would you recommend for a runner or multisport athlete trying to “Get 6-pack abs”? ??Abs are made in the kitchen. End of story. I’m able to plank for 25 straight minutes, and my abs aren’t making the pages of Abercrombie and Fitch catalogs anytime soon. I attribute this to my acute Nutella addiction, but that’s another story for another day. Core strength and abdominal definition are two very different things, and are not necessarily mutually inclusive.??To achieve your dream 6-pack, you’re going to need to get pretty lean. At the minimum, we’re talking sub-10% for guys and sub-18% for girls. A healthy, clean diet and an training program that includes some intensity will go a long way toward accomplishing this goal.

3. What are the biggest challenges to (a) getting visible changes in one’s ab muscles and (b) increasing core strength? How do runners overcome them?

The biggest challenges most of my clients run into as they chase down their dream 6-pack revolve around the nutritional aspects of the process. You’re going to need to cut down pretty sincerely on sugars in particular, cut any excess carbohydrates of any kind out of your diet, and stay consistent about your dietary discipline (no cheat meals, cheat days, or “it was Christmas, and you can’t skip Grandma’s pies!” excuses).

Most committed runners can overcome roadblocks that can be solved with more running, so adding more intervals and hill sprints typically isn’t an issue.

The biggest challenge to increasing core strength is finding the correct exercises to induce an effective stimulus on your core musculature. There’s a reason that we all did 12,000 sit-ups in P.E. class and nobody every got washboard abs – they simply aren’t the most effective way to increase your core strength or build muscle.

Runners can overcome both of these challenges with the same work ethic and discipline we all apply to our running programs.

4. How might “6-pack abs” / a stronger core improve running performance?

A stronger core will help all runners by increasing the amount of force that your body is able to generate with your legs. Basic locomotion: if you’re able to put more force into the ground, you’ll be able to get more forward motion out of it and therefore run faster. By increasing your core strength and stability you’ll be able to get more power transferred into the ground. I like to equate it to jumping off of a stable surface versus jumping off of an unstable surface. The more stability you have, the more power you’ll be able to realize into movement. Track sprinters are a great example of this truth: they generate the most ground force of any runners on the planet, and (no surprise) they all have strong core musculature and great abdominal definition.

As I mentioned previously, there is an added benefit to trail runners – the ability to keep your body stable with a strong core will undoubtedly help you maintain cadence while running through more technically sections (maintaining efficiency and increasing average speed over the course of your run) and will also most likely save you from a few spills, which will definitely cost you time in your race but may also cause an injury that may keep you from training at the level you need to continue progressing as a runner.

5. What is one of your favorite (or the most effective) ab workouts/exercises?

For runners, my favorite simple core complex requires only your body weight and a Swiss ball. Assume a plank position with your shins resting on the Swiss ball and your hands on the ground. Draw your abs tight to your spine, and crunch your knees to your chest as you exhale. Get compact. Inhale as you extend back to the starting position. From here, exhale again while simultaneously piking your hips toward the ceiling. Maintain straight legs throughout the movement, and try and achieve a 90 degree hip angle at the top the movement. Inhale as you again return to the starting position. Lastly, shift your body weight backwards and roll out (rotate your shoulders back while keeping your arms straight) to a fully extended position, with a straight line from your ankles to your hands. The Swiss ball will roll naturally toward your hips. Exhale and pull your body back to the original starting position. Do 5-10 rounds through the entire complex for one set, and do 3-4 sets to really get a great core workout dialed.

This crunch/pike/rollout complex is a favorite of mine due to the lateral stability required by balancing on the Swiss ball and the range of motion that is demanded of the abdominal muscles by the 3 different exercises. The rollout also engages the myotatic (stretch) reflex of the abs, which recruits a lot of muscle fiber that traditional sit-ups and other ab exercises neglect.

6. Do you have any examples of clients who achieved this goal whose story you could share? (You needn’t provide their name, but perhaps demographic characteristics)

I have a number of running clients of a wide variety of ages and backgrounds who have improved their running by incorporating core strength training into their programs. I think it’s important for runners to start thinking of themselves as “athletes who run”, not simply “runners”. You can build a stronger and more efficient running body by incorporating some specific core exercises into your program, and that newfound strength and efficiency can help you break that PR or win your first race. Give your body all the tools you can to help it succeed – build a better foundation and start training your core!??Reach out to Chris at Performance Training Center by Julia Mancuso in Truckee for more training tips and tricks to help you in your quest for the BEST race season of your life.

Performance Training Center


Oct 21 2014