It can be hard to carve out time in your busy schedule for strength training, especially if you’re a newbie and it feels overwhelming to get started—or you don’t even know where to start. That’s why we turned to Lindsey Clayton, senior instructor at Barry’s in New York City and co-founder of Brave Body Project to explain the best ab exercises for beginners, so you know exactly what to do to kick off your training. After all, any solid workout program starts with core work.
Having a stable core is particularly essential for a runner’s performance because it helps improve form, propulsion, speed, and power, Clayton tells Runner’s World. And these moves will help you tap into those running assets. “Runners of all levels should add in dynamic core exercises like side planks and bear planks with supine ab work (that means lying on your back) like dead bug and hollow holds to their current strength training program to create a well-balanced routine,” she says.
With that in mind, Clayton created this quick core workout, which focuses on essential ab exercises for beginners.
How to use this list: In the video above, Clayton demonstrates each exercise so you can learn proper form. All you need is your body weight for this workout, but an exercise mat is optional. Do each exercise for 50 seconds resting for 10 seconds in between each move. Complete 1 to 2 rounds of the entire circuit.
1. Alternating Bird Dog
Why it works: Practicing this exercise will not only help you improve your core strength, but also your pelvic stability.
How to do it: Start on all fours with a neutral spine, knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. This is your starting position. Extend right arm and left leg straight out and in line with torso, keeping hips and shoulders square to floor. Bring right elbow and left knee in toward chest so they touch, then extend back out. Return to starting position. Repeat on the opposite side. Continue alternating.
2. Bear Plank Hold
Why it works: Clayton says this move will strengthen key core muscles for more stability and balance on the road.
How to do it: Start on all fours with a neutral spine, knees under hips and wrists under shoulders. Keeping back flat, use core to lift knees off the ground a few inches so you’re balancing on palms and the balls of feet. Hold for four seconds, then lower knees back down to ground. Repeat.
3. Supported Side Plank With Hip Dip
Why it works: This is another core move that will aid in stability, along with turning up the burn in your obliques. Practicing plank variations is a great way to build deep core strength, which protects the spine and helps you maintain an upright position as you run.
How to do it: Start lying on left side, left forearm on the ground with elbow directly under shoulder. Stack shoulders, hips, knees, and feet. Cross right leg in front of left, bend right knee, and place right foot firmly on the floor. Engage core and lift hips up, forming a straight line from head to heels. Hold here. If you feel stable, slowly dip hips toward floor. Then lift them back up. Repeat.
4. Dead Bug
Why it works: Practicing this move helps you build core stability, as you learn to keep your torso stable while your limbs move—just like in running.
How to do it: Lie faceup both legs lifted, knees bent 90 degrees and placed directly over. Extend arms straight up, over shoulders. Keep spine in a neutral position and pack shoulders toward the floor. This is your starting position. Extend right leg straight out, lowering it toward the floor, as you simultaneously extend left arm overhead, also lowering it toward the floor behind you. Keep left knee over the hip and right hand over the shoulder. Pause, then bring the right leg and left arm back to the starting position. Repeat on opposite side. Continue alternating.
5. Alternating Leg Lift
How to do it: Lie faceup, hands behind head. Lift legs straight up toward ceiling. Lift head, neck, and shoulders off the floor. Slowly lower left leg toward floor, stopping just a few inches off the ground. Then lift it back up to meet right leg. Repeat on opposite side. Continue alternating. Lower head, neck, and shoulders if that feels better for you.
6. Bicycle Crunch
Why it works: This move mimics running movement patterns while turning up the core engagement.
How to do it: Lie faceup with both hands behind head, knees bent and stacked directly over hips. Lift right shoulder off mat as you rotate up and over toward left knee pulling in toward chest. Simultaneously extend right leg straight out and toward the floor. Pause, then, rotate to the right, lifting left shoulder off the floor and reaching toward right knee as you pull it in toward chest. Simultaneously extend left leg straight out toward the floor. Continue alternating, keeping head, neck, and shoulders lifted the entire time.