Most runners and coaches know that strength training is essential for runners. Strength training reduces injury risk, improves power output, and increases fatigue resistance. Core work is one aspect of strength training (although not the only aspect) – and certainly one of the most popular for runners. This stability ball core workout is one way to incorporate core work into your larger strength training regimen.
Core Work Inproves Your Stability
Your core is composed of the muscles in your mid and lower back (latissimus dorsi, trapezius, multifidus, erector spinae) abs (transverse abdominus, rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques), butt (glutes, piriformis), and pelvis (illopsoas and other hip flexors).
These muscles connect the entire body, from your arms to your legs. By building a stronger and more stable core, you stabilize your entire kinetic chain. The kinetic chain is composed of all of your muscles and the connecting joints and tendons, which provide the strength to move your skeleton. A full body movement such as running relies on a strong, supported, and coordinated kinetic chain to efficiently move.
Many of your core muscles support your spine. Since your spine is connected to your nervous system, which plays a significant role in any movement, a stable and supported spine creates a better efficiency of movement. Think of how less efficient your movement becomes, whether it’s in running, cycling, or yoga, when you are slouched over. Your running form will naturally improve with a more stable core and you will not fatigue as quickly in a race.
Efficiency of Movement
A strong, stable core creates a more efficient transfer of energy throughout your kinetic chain. Imagine bouncing a sponge on the concrete: the sponge does not bounce so much as it splats. Now picture bouncing a tennis ball on concrete: it springs up from the ground and continues to move. Your core is like a sponge or tennis ball. If your core is weak, you will lose your energy into the ground and require more energy to keep going forward. If your core is strong, the energy will transfer back into your body from the ground and spring you forward, thus more efficiently using your body’s energy.
Creating a Strong, Stable Core
So how do you create a more stable core? The key lies in functional, whole body movements that recruit all of your core muscles rather than isolate a single muscle. Work muscles in isolation can lead to muscular imbalances, which in turn can contribute to instability. Crunches may produce abs aesthetically appealing abs, but they do not work the deep muscles of your core, nor do they train those muscles to work together efficiently. Think instead of planks, bridges, lunges, and pushups, which engage multiple muscle groups.
Anti-rotational exercises are functional exercises for creating a strong and stable core. The stability ball forces you to resist opposing forces and stabilize against rotation, especially if you are using your abdominals to push or pull the ball. This trains your body to stabilize against forces while running and therefore run more efficiently.
Stability Ball Core Workout for Runners
A stability ball is not essential for building a stable, strong core. However, much like kettlebells or the TRX, the stability ball is a fun and effective tool to use in strength training. It can advance bodyweight movements and add an element of fun to strength training.
Not only does the stability ball provide an excellent core workout, but it is an affordable piece of equipment that you can easily use to work out from home! Being able to do core work from the comfort of your own home while watching Netflix makes you more likely to stick to a routine. Most gyms have them, but a stability ball costs under $20, take up only a few feet of space, and can double as a chair.
When selecting a stability ball, pick the appropriate size based on your height:
- Small/55cm: 5’5 or shorter
- Medium/65 cm: 5’6 to 5:11
- Large/75 cm: 6’0 or taller
With all of the movements, be sure to move slowly and with control. Relying on momentum in any strength training exercise will decrease the efficacy of the workout. Additionally, the slower you move, the more you are forced to stabilize.
You can do this stability ball core workout on its own or incorporate the exercises into a total body strength workout. Aim for two to three sets, based on your current fitness level.
Stability Ball Roll Out: Kneel on your mat with your knees hip-width apart and the stability ball directly in front of you. Place your forearms on the ball and keep your hands in loose fists. Straighten your arms to slowly roll the ball away from you as far as you can without letting your hips drop. Pause, and then bend your elbows and slowly roll the ball back in. Be sure to keep your back flat and your ab muscles engaged during the entire exercise. That’s one rep; repeat for ten reps.
Stability Ball Pass: Lie on your back on your mat with your arms extended above you and your legs beyond you, so your body forms a straight line. Hold the ball in between your hands. Brace your core and raise your arms and legs simultaneously off the ground. Pass the ball from your hands to your feet, and then slowly lower yourself back onto the floor. Repeat to pass the ball back to your hands. This is one rep; repeat for ten reps.
Stability Ball Hamstring Curl: Lie on your back on the mat. Place your feet on the ball and then raise your hips off the ground, so that your body forms a straight line from your shoulders on the ground to your feet on the ball. Brace your core, engage your glutes, and slowly bend your knees to pull the ball in towards you. Pause, and then straighten your knees to extend your legs and return the ball to start. Be sure to keep your hips level during the entire movement. This is one rep; repeat ten times.
Stability Ball Back Extension: Lie facedown across the stability ball, with your feet hip-width apart and resting on the floor behind your and your arms extended straight past your head. Squeeze your glutes and shoulder blades and slowly lift your chest off of the ball until your back is straight. Pause, then slowly return to start. This is one rep; repeat for 10 reps.
Stability Ball Ab Pull: Begin in a raised pushup position on the stability ball, with your hands on the ground directly beneath your shoulders, the stability ball under your feet, and your back straight and flat. Brace your core to keep your back flat and slowly pull your knees in, drawing the ball towards your chest. Pause, and then slowly reverse to return to start. Be careful not to pike your hips up or shrug your shoulder up towards your ears. This is one rep; repeat for ten reps.
Find more strength training workouts for runners:
Functional Kettlebell Workout for Runners
Equipment Based Workouts for Runners
Hip, Core, and Glute Resistance Band Workout
Total Body Medicine Ball Workout for Runners
How often do you do core work?
What’s your favorite piece of equipment at the gym or your home gym?