Best Core Exercises for Sprinters

athlete core training

Elite level sprinters are built like machines with powerful legs, strong arms and a solid core.

It’s evident in sprinting events such as the 100m and 200m that genetics has an important role to play when determining how quickly an athlete can run.

 However, the effects of proper training will take an athletes potential and create efficiency by adding sprint technique, power, strength, mobility and core stability.

To sprint efficiently, an athlete needs to make sure that the arms and legs move in sync, and all the required muscles operate to support functionality.  

The correct type of core training will greatly aid a sprinters ability to accomplish this.

Training the core is necessary for all these things come together, which will help produce the best possible athlete. 

Article Overview
  • The structure and function of the core in sprinting.
  • Why you should incorporate core exercises into your sprint training.
  • How you should go about training the core. 
  • Examples of core exercises that will give you great results.

Definition and Structure of the Core

An easy way to distinguish your trunk as a whole, is to simply remove your legs and arms from the picture.

What is left over can be referred to as your trunk.

First let me briefly describe the structure of the core and layers of the abdominal wall.

The abdominal wall is composed of three different layers:

  • Deep layer
  • Middle layer
  • Outer layer

In the centre of the abdomen you will find the rectus abdominis muscle.

Laterally on both sides of the trunk are 3 different muscles that are layered one after the after.

The first muscle is the external obliques, followed then by the internal obliques and finally ending with the transversus abdominis muscle.

The deep layer of muscle within the abdominals consists of smaller, sense muscles, which are responsible for controlling accessory movements of the spine.

This is highly important, as although the spine seems to be still when sprinting, these sense muscles are actually hard at work.

During a sprint, an athlete needs to flex and extend powerfully at the hip during each stride to generate speed.

During this action, the sense muscles will control the movements of the spine which will prevent excess displacement, which otherwise would likely cause an injury.   

The middle layer muscles, the transverse abdominis and internal obliques, all help provide a working foundation from which the arms and legs can function optimally. Meaning an improved stride length and flight time during maximum velocity sprinting.

As for the outer layer muscles, they aid in the integration of various body segments by contributing to the ability to maintain an optimal working relationship between the joints and intermuscular coordination.  

muscles of the abdomen

By OpenStax [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Core Function in Sprinting

It's vital that you have a strong and solid core when sprinting!

The main role of the core is to transfer force from the lower extremities upon ground contact to your centre of mass.  

This force is what gives off a “bouncing effect” or feeling of flight when sprinting and generating speed.

During ground contact, the hip flexors are activated and a pulling force is created which allows you to bring the rear leg forward rapidly.

During each stride cycle the core needs to be able to withstand the force created.

If you have a weak core then this force will likely result in lumbar curvature and an excessive pelvic tilt.  

The trunk acts as an anchor point from which the limbs (legs and arms) can exert force.

If the core is weak then you will not be able to generate a large ground reaction force.

You'll end up wasting energy through compensatory movements which will ultimately increase your rate of deceleration, meaning you'll slow down quicker. 

"Core work is a vital component for becoming a competent sprinter." 

I have found that many athletes actually neglect their core or focus their attention on “ab work” that is not beneficial.

I will show you how to avoid this with some exercise examples later in the article. 

The Importance of Core Training For Sprinters

Training the core is one of the most important elements in strength training when the required outcome is increased speed.  

Athletes who have strong cores can react more quickly, control their center of gravity, and generate more power for faster reactions out of the blocks. 

"I think that specific, focused core training is a must for sprinters."

Of course sprinting itself, as well as compound exercises (such as the back squat) will strengthen the core but you should spend time training the core as a primary focus.  

This will insure that your core is rigid so that it stabilizes your running. 

I also think it’s important to always look at what the elite level sprinters are doing.

If you take some time to look into their workouts you will see that they too incorporate core training into their sessions and see great value in it.

Elite American sprinter Tyson Gay has said that he values core training grealty and sees it as vital to his race preparation.

Gay says having a strong core is important not only to get a good start and have a strong finish, but also to hold everything together.

“A strong core makes a strong athlete.” - Tyson Gay

Every sprinter should include some form of core training routine which should hit all areas.

You should maximise upper, lower and rotational core exercises.

Changing the routine up means the muscles will not get overworked and it reduces the risk of injury.

Implementing these training aspects into your training program can make a huge difference in your performance.

athlete core training with weight plate

How Should Sprinters Train the Core and Trunk

Training the core should never be about solely working on your abdominals.

This is a mistake that I have found many athletes make.

Having visible abs may look good, but does not necessarily mean that you have a strong core or make you a better sprinter.

The aim of trunk training should be to improve the ability of the muscles to transmit and handle high forces safely.

For this to happen, it is important that you train all the muscles involved from all angles as mentioned previously.

It's important to try and imitate sport specific actions as much as possible.

Therefore it will be helpful to include standing or hanging exercises when training the core, to try and imitate the position of the body when sprinting.  

One of the things that makes core workouts so great is the fact that there is an endless amount of exercises and combinations for you to choose from.

The work need not be long and tiresome, and by hitting different angles you could potentially perform exercises during every session without suffering severe fatigue.

In fact it’s common for sprinters to complete 3-6 core exercises (in the form of a circuit) after the main bulk of their session is complete.

This is an effective way to get the work done quickly and efficiently and I use it a lot with my athletes.

In reality, core exercises can go anywhere within your training session and can even be used as part of a warm-up to prepare the muscles for further engagement.

Use These Exercises to Boost Your Core Strength and Improve Your Performance on the Track!

Best Core Strengthening Exercises for Sprinters

Flexion Stabilisation Exercises for Sprinters :

  • Plank
  • Side plank
  • Side plank with leg raised
  • 1 leg plank
  • 1 arm plank
  • 1 arm 1 leg plank
  • Press-up plank with rotation

Flexion Strength and Power Exercises for Sprinters:

  • V sits
  • Hanging leg raise
  • Lower abdominal with knees bent
  • Lower abdominal with straight legs
  • Medball v sits

Rotational Strength and Power Exercises for Sprinters:

  • Medball reverse chop
  • Medball seated rotation
  • Medball explosive reverse chops
  • Medball explosive chops
  • Medball wall rebound rotations
  • Barbell russian twists

Extension Stability and Strength Exercises for Sprinters:

  • Back hyperextensions
  • Back hyperextensions Raised Arms and Legs
  • Back extensions
  • Weighted back extensions

Glute Activation and Strength Exercises for Sprinters:

  • Reverse hyperextensions
  • Single leg hip extensions
  • Medball reverse hyperextensions
  • Bodyweight single leg romanian deadlift
  • Medball single leg romanian deadlift
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