Getting to the Core
What is your core anyway?
Think of your core as the chain that holds your body together, essentially your body without arms and legs. This is important because having a strong core doesn’t just mean having a nice 6 pack. Core muscles also include your obliques, your pelvic muscles, your hip muscles, muscles around your lower and middle back and your chest, even your diaphragm – yes that’s right the muscle that helps you breathe – so fairly crucial for running then! Why spend time working your core when you could be
Putting it simply a stronger core will see you running faster times with reduced risk of injury, and it doesn’t need to mean hours spent in an over-priced sweaty gym.
A good analogy is to think of a formula one racing car - teams work the make the chassis light but strong, this way we can better focus the energy of your muscles and limit unnecessary movement which can cause fatigue. Your core is your base, a railway sleeper running through your body translating all the power of your arms and legs into motion. Most of us tend towards having fairly sedentary jobs resulting in weakness in the lower abs, glutes and your deep core muscles sure as your transverse abdominus (TVA).
The simple core routine below performed regularly will help develop stability and balance in your running stride, and improve your posture to help with your running efficiency. Over coming weeks and months we will give you more advanced workouts to try, but we would consider the 6 exercises below a great start point for all runners.
Perform all of the following exercises 3 times and aim for 2-3 sessions a week.
1. The Finger Crusher
A crucial and under utilized exercise, this small core engager will reap big rewards.
* Breaking it down - Lie on a mat in a sit up position, find the natural arch in your back, place your hands under this arch, engage your lower abs and pelvic floor and pushing your spine down on to your hands, trying to crush your fingers. Aim to keep the pressure applied evenly to your fingers for at least 30 seconds
* Muscles strengthened – The multifidus – the tiny but crucial muscles that stabilise the spine, the pelvic floor which provides support to all your pelvic organs and the TVA, which stabilises
* Stepping it up - Add small alternate leg lifts, while still keeping the pressure on your hands even.
2. Plank Routine: front plank – side plank – side plank
The plank in all its forms is an essential runners conditioning exercise, helping you to
keep your posture through each stride, especially when tired.
* Breaking it down – Start with a front plank - Lie on your front and raise your body up on your elbows with your forehead over you hands. Keep a straight line from the neck down through the legs to your ankles; engage all your core muscles by sucking your belly button up to the ceiling. Try to imagine lengthening your body out form the shoulders forwards and heels backwards, as well as lifting through the mid section.
Now move into a side plank - Make a right angle with your supporting arm, roll your body onto this arm keeping your other arm above your head, keep your feet together and your stomach strong. Rise up, lifting your hips, Making sure you squeeze your glutes, pushing your pelvis through. Repeat on the other side by rolling through to your other elbow. Aim to build up to holding each pose for 45s or more
* Muscles strengthened – Erector Spinae, which helps to straighten your back, your abs, chest and your TVA. In addition to these the side plank helps to develop your oblique’s.
* Stepping it up – Make your front plank more challenging by alternately legging each leg from the floor by 5 or 6 inches whilst trying to keep you core strong and hips level. Progress your side plank by lifting your top leg whilst maintaining your hip position.
The glutes are your big running propulsion muscles. The bridge helps to engage this
crucial engine whilst also developing hip and spine stability.
* Breaking it down - From a sit up position, keep your stomach strong, engage your glutes and push your hips up to keep a straight line from your shoulders, through your hips to your knees. Keep your hips high by squeezing your glute muscles. If you find your hamstrings working more than your glutes, tuck your feet a little further under towards your backside.
* Muscles strengthened – the bridge principally works your gluteal muscles that extend your hips but also develop your rectus abdominus and TVA
* Stepping it up – Once in a strong bridge position try extending one leg out straight from the knee, without letting your hips drop!
4. Press Up
Quite simply one of the best exercises you can do. Having the stability benefit of the
plank the press up also conditions your upper body….why is this important? – you’ll
swing you arms well over 35,000 times during a marathon!
* Breaking it down - place your hands shoulder and a half’s width apart, get into the plank position, but with your knees touching the ground and feet off the floor, lower your chest to the floor and push back up, not just pushing through your chest and arms, but also through your core. Push yourself until your feel you could only complete 1 more repetition without failing…
* Muscles strengthened – The press up is a fabulous full body exercises because in addition to working all the muscles used in a plank your also develop your pectoral and tricep muscles in your arms which play a crucial role in providing power and balance in your running stride.
* Stepping it up – Go full body! Instead of placing your knees on the floor complete your press up whilst holding a full plank position but maintain the depth of your press up.
This dynamic full body exercise is all about the legs, it also helps develop core
stability and control as well as hip alignment.
5. Walking Lunge
This works all the key the running muscles in a fantastic full chain movement. Control and alignment is crucial so don’t rush this one!
* Breaking it down – From a tall standing position, step forward into a lunge position, keeping your back heel lifted, with hands on hips, and squeezing the glute of your rear leg. Bend each knee to 90 degrees. Work to keep your upper body tall and shoulders back, your knee should NOT be over the front of your toes. From the lunge position squeeze the muscles of your front leg to get back to the standing position before stepping forward into another lunge with the opposite leg. Work to minimize any poor balance by focusing on a good alignment with toes, hips and chest all pointing forwards. Complete between 5 and 10 steps with each leg
* Muscles strengthened – The walking lunge is incredibly effective because not only does it work both the key anterior and posterior muscles of the legs (qauds, glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings) evenly it also requires excellent core stability through your TVA and erector
* Stepping it up – Holding a weight such as a medicine ball directly out in front of your body, step into your lunge before turning your upper body from the hips over your front leg, bring your arms back to the centre before moving into your next lunge.
6. Single Leg Squat
It’s all about specificity with this one - engaging all the muscles that move you from one stride to the next the single leg squat strengthens your body whilst mimicking and exaggerating the movement.
* Breaking it down - Stand on one leg, engage your glute on your standing leg, keep your hips facing forward and aligned with your knee and toe. Imagine sitting back onto a chair and bending your knee to lower your body towards the ground. You don’t want your knee to roll inwards, so go down as far Aim for 8-12 repetitions on each leg.
* Muscles strengthened – the powerful leg muscles – quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. The real advantage though of the single leg squat is that it requires the balance provided by your gluteus maximus and abs as well as your erector spinae – a true full body exercise. By ensuring your knee does not 'collapse inwards' you will also be learning to control and engage your glute medius muscle.
* Stepping it up – Try your singe leg squats on a balance board or BOSU ball to take away stability – but keep that focus on form!