A Strong Core Holds It All Together: Why Core Workouts Help Runners
The topic for discussion today is how our core impacts our running. Many runners and triathletes, faced with a busy training schedule, neglect their core workouts. This is ultimately to the detriment of our run form and subsequently our running. Let’s take a look at how our running benefits from a strong core, and go over some best practices on training core strength!
Stabilizing, Holding it All Together
Our core stabilizes us. Put another way, it connects our upper and lower body during almost any activity imaginable. Even standing up straight calls our core muscles into use. Imagine how much more these muscles are important to running! We spend large portions of our training time focusing on strengthening the muscles and motions specific to our sport. This is good to do, without a doubt. But it’s also so important to strengthen, and focus on developing our weaknesses in these vital connecting muscles. It plays a vital role in keeping us healthy as athletes.
Specifically, our core will help us maintain our posture which is the bedrock of efficient and fast running form. (See Michael’s comments recently on the importance of stabilizing muscles!)
What is a Core?
Many people think that just by doing crunches we can gain a strong core. That is not necessarily the case! While the abdominal muscles are certainly an important part of the core, it’s comprised of much more. The abdominals play an important role, but the core also includes the back, hip, and glute muscles as well.
So, when we think about core strength, we need to think about incorporating functional movements. These movements should challenge and change up our routine!
How to Target the Complete Core.
If crunches aren’t a surefire means of developing a strong core, what is?
One exercise that our group athletes certainly love are slow bear crawls. However, planks and plank variations are also helpful to engage the core. Planks help by mimicking the tall, upright running posture, albeit on the ground. We can move and orient ourselves differently on the ground to develop different parts of the core as well.
Another great thing to do is glute activations with slow movements that fall in the same plane of motion as running. Lunges, different steps, all of these help train the specific muscles recruited in running.
One important note here!
Not every single exercise is going to be good for all athletes. Some athletes may need attention given to one muscle group, while others may need to develop a different set of muscles. Of course, this is where we want to help you as your coach. Private sessions are a great way to get individual attention, but I also frequently help our group coached athletes understand what muscles groups they need to focus on while I’m working with them during strength training.
One Example of Muscle Balance
Let’s use a specific example. One common issue which runners and triathletes deal with are tight hip flexors in training. It can tilt our hips into what’s called an anterior position. This is best illustrated if you look at my video above. However, imagine your hips rotating out, arching your back and exaggerating the curve of your lower back. This will deactivate some of our muscles and make us more inefficient, slower, and prone to injuries in running.
To avoid this, we want to ensure we’re staying loose in our hip flexors and quads. Something I do to help with this is foam roll and stretch thoroughly after (and sometimes before) workouts. Lunging stretches and yoga are also great for this.
What if you’re someone with a propensity for this hip tilt? You would want to avoid exercises that target extending muscles to prevent making this more pronounced. For example, I don’t need to work on exercises such as back extensions with exercises like Supermans since my back is already pretty strong. Instead, I need to focus on the front side with exercises like bear crawls and work on bringing my hips forward.
Everyone is different, and this is a great opportunity to get with a coach to learn more about how you move!
Strong Core, Strong Athlete
However you decide to train your core, I urge you not to neglect it. With how much we train as athletes, it seems silly to let something that takes so little time in the big picture keep us from fast running. It only takes 15 minutes a few times a week to really target these muscles. Improving your core will make you stronger and more efficient in your running.
Mix your schedule up to help with this! We spend much of our time moving forward, be it in the pool, on the bike, or on our feet. Don’t be afraid to hone your agility with lateral movements or even play games using different motions. This helps us be well rounded and adaptable, and makes us stronger in the long run!
Happy training! Feel free to reach out to me with any questions. I’d be happy to talk about how a strong core is the foundation of a strong athlete!