This core conditioning program was developed by John Lythe, a conditioning specialist and strength coach who trains runners and triathletes. The exercises work on the various muscle groups that stabilize the trunk. The benefits of these exercises include both a reduction in injuries and improved ability to maintain good running technique when fatigued.
There are 10 basic exercises, all of which use your bodyweight for resistance. We recommend that you start out with the abdominal crunch, the leg pushaway and three of the other five exercises. Add exercises or change variations as you improve. In the first month, the most important aspect is learning to do the exercises correctly. It is always better to do core-conditioning exercises with good technique than to rush through them. Most runners make excellent gains by doing three 20- to 30-minute core-conditioning sessions per week.
Lie on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor
Cross your arms over your chest
Push the lower back into the floor
Inhale slightly more than usual and hold your breath as you lift the head, shoulders and upper back off the floor
Concentrate on curling your upper trunk as much as possible
Exhale and slowly return to the start position
During the entire movement the neck should be held straight with the eyes looking at the ceiling
Crunches are typically performed in sets of 20 or more e.g. 2 sets of 20 with 30 seconds rest between sets. However, the volume of repetitions performed will vary considerably across individuals. It is recommended to perform slow, controlled repetitions until muscular fatigue is reached and to not be overly concerned about the number of repetitions performed.
Altering the hand/arm position during the crunch is a simple way to vary and progress the exercise. Basic physics tells us that the load being lifted is equal to the weight of the object multiplied by its distance from the pivot point. In the crunch we can assume that the abdominals are the pivot point so any shifting of weight (moving the upper limbs) away from this point will make the crunch more difficult.
HANDS ON EARS
For this progression simply raise the arms and touch the fingers to the side of the head just in front of the ears. It is not recommended to join the fingers behind the head as this tends to result in the head being pulled forward during the crunch.
ARMS ABOVE THE HEAD
A remarkably simply way to make the exercise more difficult is to extend the arms above the head. When performing the exercise using this variation it is tempting to move the arms forward towards the chest during the crunch. It is important that this does not happen as it reduces the effectiveness of the variation (keep the arms held directly above the head). Further progression can be achieved by holding a light weight with the arms in this position.
Altering the position of the legs also provides some useful variation to the crunch. Holding the legs up either straight or bent alters the length of the abdominal muscles and therefore provides a different stress to the standard crunch. It is common to see the legs placed over a bench, box or swiss ball when performing the bent leg version. These options are fine so-long as the legs are not used for grip to assist in pulling the body up into the crunch.
Start in the basic crunch position with arms outstretched by your sides
Raise the shoulders and upper back off the ground
While holding this elevated position, slowly reach down as far as possible to one side as if trying to touch your ankle
Return to the start position and repeat for the other side
Do not allow the shoulders to lower back to the floor between repetitions
Keep your neck straight with your eyes fixed on the ceiling at all times
Aim to perform the exercise slowly with as large a range of motion as possible (reach down as far as able). Perform 16-20 repetitions (8-10 per side) per set.
Assume the position shown with weight supported on toes and elbows/forearms
Elbows are shoulder width apart and directly under the shoulders and feet are either together or slightly apart
Maintain head in alignment with the spine (do not look ahead or to the side)
Hold this position while breathing normally
Option 1: High Hips this is a safe position that is less stressful to both the abdominal muscles and the lower back. Perform exercise in this position if you are a novice or have low back problems
Option 2: Flat Hips this is more difficult and consequently appropriate for advanced individuals. The hips are held low so that a straight line could be drawn between the ankles, hips and shoulders.
Error: Hips Too Low The danger of performing the flat hip position is that it is easy for the hips to drop below the line between the shoulder and ankle. This is a dangerous position for the lower back and should be avoided.
STRUCTURE Perform holds of 10-60 seconds using a 1:1 work: rest ratio.
A simple variation is to take one leg off the ground. This makes the abdominals work harder to prevent the body twisting toward the side of the unsupported leg.
During the plank exercise the body is like a table being supported by two sets of legs. If these legs are moved further apart from each other then the stress on the abdominals increases. The three variations shown below are simply increases in the distance between the two supports.
Plantar-flexing the ankle (pointing the toes)
Moving the position of the elbows forward
Start in the press-up position with hands directly under the shoulders (i.e. quite a narrow width hand spacing). Your feet are together
Lower into a position where your arms are bent to 90 degrees (elbows should be close to side of body)
Hold this position for 10 seconds and return to the top position.
As you become stronger you can hold each repetition for a longer duration.
Assume the position shown in picture 1. Hold your body in a straight line as shown by the black line. The only body parts in contact with the floor are the elbow of the support arm and the outside edge of the bottom foot. The elbow should be placed on the ground in the line of the shoulders. Attempt to hold the position without allowing your hips to sag for a period of 5-20 seconds then briefly rest and repeat on the opposite side. It is important that you not only keep your body in a straight line if viewed from the front as in picture 1 but also in a straight line if viewed by someone looking from the top of the head down to the feet. It is common for weaker participants to push the hips out behind the body to make the exercise slightly easier. An advanced version of the exercise is shown in picture 2. Here the body is supported on the hand rather than the elbow. To further advance this exercise and place additional stress on the abdominal and gluteal muscles the top foot can be lifted (pictures 3 and 4). The aim should be to hold the position with one leg raised in the air for 5-10 seconds before returning to the double leg position.
The structure depends on the variation of the exercise being performed. In performing the basic version (picture 1) then 3 repetitions of 15 seconds per side would be appropriate. Increasing the repetitions and decreasing the duration of each repetition would be appropriate if performing any of the advanced versions (pictures 2-4).
Lie on the floor with your arms by your sides and your knees bent (feet flat on the floor)
Feet are hip width apart with toes pointing directly ahead
Lift hips off the ground and push as high in the air as possible
Squeeze your gluteals as you hold the top position for 5 seconds
Lower your hips back to the ground, rest briefly and repeat
To make the exercise more difficult cross the arms over the chest (reduces stability)
Perform 8-10 repetitions (holding each repetition for 5 seconds) per set. Rest only briefly e.g. 1-2 seconds between repetitions. This exercise can be made significantly more difficult by performing with one leg as the hip muscles on the support leg must work very hard to prevent the unsupported hip from dropping. When performing with one leg you should keep the knees close together so that the hips are straight. You can either lift the hips with both legs on the floor then remove one leg or perform the whole movement with one leg.