This summer, running alone won’t improve your run performance. Take your summer running up a gear with core strength training and you’ll be on track to your strongest run results ever.
Here, run coach Dom Cadden shares why every runner needs good core strength – and how to get it.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Put simply, a more efficient run with reduced risk of injury. What’s not to love?
BETTER TRANSMISSION OF ENERGY
The core muscles help transmit energy from the legs through to the gluteal (butt) muscles, and transfer the power generated through the arms to propulsion through the legs. When it comes to running the “six-pack” muscles (rectus abdominis) are for show, not go – these are the least important core muscles for running. The muscles doing the grunt work are deeper down close to the spine, and allow the spine and hips to rotate in order to drive the back leg forward
BETTER ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Poor core strength can cause the upper body and hips to wobble, which means your hamstrings have to work extra hard and the knees and lower leg muscles take a hammering as they try to control your torso rocking about. A strong core helps reduce wasted movement and energy.
A STABLE BASE
A strong, stable core gives your legs a better base to push from, especially when sprinting or going uphill. It’s like pushing a car on bitumen wearing shoes compared to pushing a car on gravel wearing thongs. You want to be on the bitumen.
SAFER, STRONGER DOWNHILL RUNNNING
A strong core helps dissipate and absorb the impact forces of running downhill and counters the forward momentum, so you’re less likely to go head over heels.
BETTER BALANCE ON TECHNICAL TERRAIN
The core muscles help stabilise your body in every direction, and act quickly to counterbalance any twist or fall. This is especially important when running on trails, sand or other uneven surfaces.
REDUCED RISK OF INJURY
When the muscles in the hips and trunk work together, you don’t get as many injuries. Poor core strength can cause poor posture, which can contribute to soreness in the lower back, hips, shoulders, knees and even the ankles. When the core muscles aren’t working enough, other muscles need to work harder to compensate. A good example is when weak core strength leads to “hip drop”, which is where one hips drops below the other and places excessive pressure on the leg. This may lead to issues such as iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome, shin splints and lower back issues.
For endurance runners, good core strength helps them maintain form as fatigue sets in. Without core strength, you can be reduced to slouching, shuffling and wobbling through the upper body, which puts stress on the hips, knees, shins and back and impacts your ability to breathe efficiently.
HOW DO I GET IT
So, what are the best ways to strengthen the core?
ISOMETRIC CORE WORK
Isometric core exercises – where the effort is “held” so the joint angle and muscle position don’t change – will help you develop and hold good running posture. Try holding a light weight directly overhead with arms extended and walk, lunge or squat.
PELVIC ROTATION & HIP FLEXOR STRETCHES
Many abdominal exercises shorten or contract the hip flexors, but running requires you to extend them. Try this exercise: Stand on one leg with a chair or exercise ball behind you and push the chair or ball back with the other foot. Here’s another one: Lie on your front with your legs and arms fully extended, then try to raise your legs, arms and chest off the floor. For variation, raise one leg and the opposite arm, alternating sides.
Sit on the floor with your feet flat and lean back slightly. Hold a small weight or ball with your arms fully extended and twist to touch the floor each side of the body.
LATERAL CORE/GLUTE STABILITY
Side planks are a great exercise for core/glute stability. Start by lying on your side with your body weight supported by your forearm. Raise your hips so you have a straight diagonal line between your top shoulder and feet. Hold, then lower slowly to the floor.
With just a little time and effort, core strength training will take your running forward in leaps and… planks.