A few months ago, I talked about the importance of a strong core for runners and how I learned the hard way several years ago with my first running injury. Our core muscles are as important for running as they are for daily life activities, and can help keep us balanced, improve stability and decrease injury.
I recently came across a fascinating study testing which core exercises are the most efficient. I do core exercises to cross it off my “stay injury free” to do list, but if there is a way to make it as efficient as possible, I want to know!
The study was conducted by Jinger Gottschall (and colleagues) at Penn State University. The researchers compared isolation exercises to integration exercises to determine which ones elicited the greatest core activation. You can find the abstract here.
They used surface electromyography to measure muscle activity of the core trunk muscles (abdominal and lumbar), as well as the glutes and deltoids which were engaged in the integration exercises.
Isolation exercises reviewed included traditional crunches, oblique twists and back extensions.
These were compared to exercises that integrate muscles of the back and upper body, such as planks, hovers and four-point exercises.
So what were the results?
The integration exercises consistently outperformed the isolation exercises in terms of greater activation of muscles. In integration exercises, the core muscles worked harder, and they more closely imitated the activity of core muscles in daily activities like walking, which makes them both more efficient and better for functional gains.
Here’s a basic example of each exercise. It is best to wear sneakers when completing these exercises. Do as I say, not as I do. 🙂 For a more complete explanation of each, click on the youtube links below.
What should a core routine look like?
A combination of both isolation and integration exercises is ideal. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults include core exercises twice a week.
Planks and side planks are stationary and should be done for time (start by holding for 30 seconds). For mountain climbers and four-point moves, bring your legs in and out. Again, 30 seconds is a good starting point for each, then repeat 2-3 times. Work your way up to holding the planks for 60 seconds or more.
Both kinds of exercise should be part of your regular routine, but if you hate crunches, skip them! Planks, hovers, and exercises based on all fours are best for improving strength, balance, mobility and endurance.
Are any of these integrative moves a regular part of your core routine?