Did you know that building your core can help you not only improve your stability, but also your power and endurance? Seriously.
Running is about more than just cardio. For instance, think about the act of running — your body is in a constant state of balancing on one foot. This action requires both strength and stability, especially in your core…or abdominals and surrounding, supporting muscle groups.
What is the core?
Again, one thing all great runners have in common is a strong core. All those muscles that are in our core help stabilize our torso and hips, and provide us with more power (which improves our speed).
But, our core includes a variety of different muscle groups, all of which play a role in improving our running performance. While some lie in the abdomen area, others are in surrounding, connected, supporting areas. There are the abdominal muscles, back muscles, glute muscles, and hip muscles.
Core strengthening exercises ideally build and target all these areas for the best all-around results and improvement. Not only will strengthening these muscle groups improve your running, but it will also improve your posture and stability!
But how does strengthening your core improve your running?
The easiest way to understand how a stronger core can create a better runner is to visualize the act of running.
When we run, we alternate balancing from one side of our body to the other…over and over. Our abs, back, and other core muscles (mentioned above) are responsible for keeping us both upright and stable in this balancing action.
Our core is also what gives us the power to push through our legs (the transfer of power from foot to ground to keep us moving forward) and build speed.
A stronger core means better performance and fewer injuries. Our body will compensate for weakness in our core in running which can result in things like knee pain, a sore back, and even painful hips.
But how does strength training improve endurance?
Consistent core strength training was shown to increase speed in a study published in “The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research”. Another study published in PLOS One (PLOS One is a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science) found having a strong core improves endurance and how efficiently you run.
Simply put, your form at the beginning of a run will most-likely be different than your form at the end of a run. Why? Fatigue. But, having a strong core can actually help prevent some of that deterioration and keep you running in better form! Basically, by improving your strength, you are making yourself more resistant to fatigue!
Check out these exercises to build a solid core and improve your running form, power, and endurance.
The best thing about core training is that many exercises are simple and can be done anywhere (and with no equipment).
The challenge to core-training is that you must work long enough to challenge the muscle groups without losing good form.
While a year ago, I could maybe do only 5 full sit-ups, I can now do 50…in a row…without losing form. So, while it may sound exciting to do more, the emphasis should be on doing any of the following exercises until you feel fatigue in your muscles. Starting small and focusing on quality exercise will add up to better results over time (with consistent training…try for at least three times a week).
This is a great exercise for those of us who are just starting out or suffer from back problems. You will want to lie face-up with your knees bent and flat on the floor. You can then do a traditional crunch (where you use your abs to lift only your upper back and shoulders off the floor) or a reverse crunch (where you use your abs to lift only your hips off the floor). Then, slowly lower and repeat.
NOTE: I have cervical spine problems (neck), so I started with the reverse crunch so I would not strain my neck until my core was strong enough to lift me in a traditional crunch without me straining my cervical spine.
Planks can be done on your elbows, or your hands, so choose based on what is comfortable for you. It will slightly alter which muscle groups are affected in your upper body, so you will find that one may be harder than the other.
Planks are similar to holding the “top” or starting position of a push-up. Holding your back flat (try not to sag or point your hips up), and keep your abs, legs, and glutes engaged. Keep your neck in a neutral position (look at the floor). Holding this pose with proper form is a great isometric way of building strength!
If you want to build in a little cardio, you can do a variation of this position called Mountain Climbers! Starting in a push-up position, you drive your knees to your chest (alternating left and right) in a “running” form. If you want to engage your obliques more, then you can cross your torso in the “run” (simply drive your right knee toward your left elbow and vice versa).
3. Russian Twists
This exercise is great for continuing to build oblique strength and hip strength (important stabilizers). The starting variation of this exercise would be to sit with your feet flat on the ground and your torso angled slightly back from your knees (in a V position). Then, simply twist from your left to your right and repeat.
To make the exercise harder, you can raise your feet off the ground, or begin extending/straightening your legs. You can also focus more on bringing your hands to each side of your body as you twist. Remember, focus on form! Don’t make the exercise so difficult that you lose form!
Are there other options for core strength training?
Yes! There are so many, that if I continued to list them in this article it would be HUGE! So, the above three are just some good ones to get you started.
In the meantime, if you’re interested in more ideas for strengthening your core, just let me know in the comments!