If I had to choose a specific area to focus on to become a more resilient and more efficient runner, I would definitely choose core strength training to supplement any run program. In terms of “bang for your buck” core training gets incredible results quickly, safely and efficiently.
Because core work can be done in a small space, just using body weight and does not need a huge volume of reps/sets to be effective, it is an easy ‘magic tool’ to add to your running utility belt without feeling overcommitted to ‘additional sessions’.
When running, a stable trunk and adequate core strength allows the pelvis, hips, and lower back to work together more smoothly. This can help reduce overall energy expenditure and subsequently increase running efficiency.
Core strength training can help from a running performance perspective, but also as an injury preventativemodality. In addition to this balance can be improved through having better trunk stability/adequate core strength, meaning that you can recover quickly from missteps (especially when racing or trail running).
What is it?
Firstly let us first define what core strength even means? Are we talking a Chris Hemsworth 6 pack or shredded abs of any form? I’d love to say yes… but quite honestly as a runner and a physio, I am definitely more interested in function, posture and form. I am not saying a Hemsworth rig is off the cards, but I cannot guarantee anything. One thing I CAN be certain of is that I am yet to find a runner who has not taken to core strength training like a fish to water and benefitted from adding regular sessions to their weekly regime.
Rather than “abs” we talk about the ‘core’ this is because it is quite literally the epicenter of the trunk. The core does not refer to your superficial ‘aesthetic abdominals’, but your internal structural stabilisers which help keep you upright and mechanically stable. The core muscles are deep and support the torso like a corset from ALL angles. We have to remember we are 3D, not 2D! Our core is not just the “6 pack muscles” you can see at the front, it's what lies below that actually counts! You could say the superficial abdominal muscles/rec abs are the icing on the cake (the cake base being the deep abdominals, pelvic floor, lumbar paravertebral muscles and obliques.)
If we think of the core in terms of its functionality, it is much easier to picture and understand….
The functions of the core are respiration (breathing), continence, postural control, joint/segment stabilisation and movement generation.
We need core strength to simply live and function at a basic level, but for higher level performance (running) and injury prevention, we need optimal core strength evenly around the torso and pelvis.
Every time we contract the core, we stabilise and protect the spine, pelvis and trunk. Conversely if we don’t have adequate deep abdominal and core control, you compromise your posture and running efficiency which can lead to overuse injuries.
The core muscles are supportive muscles. Their role is not to take direct load, but rather support the good posture or form and promote hip and trunk stability.
I would personally include the glutes, upper thoracic and deep pelvic stabilisers in “core training” especially when relating to runners specifically. Lumbo-pelvic instability (weakness through the back and hips) is so commonly seen clinically in endurance athletes and often presents itself ‘further down the chain” in the form of lower limb injuries. If we can correct this ripple effect down the body by having adequate core strength we can help reduce impact load in the lower legs and feet.
I have lost count of the amount of times I have heard a runner say “I haven’t had hardly ANY niggles since doing core work/Pilates, and also my back pain is gone!” To be honest, hearing that NEVER gets old.
As runners, staying healthy is one of the hardest parts of training. If we think of common running niggles: lateral hip pain, runners knee, back pain, shin splints and foot/ankle overuse injuries, often we see the common thread between these is a lack of central connection, ie: the core and the pelvis.
If we compare a soldier with a strong posture and stable pelvis to perhaps a supermodel on a catwalk with excessive hip swagger, you can imagine which one of these examples would have the efficient load pattern through the lower limb….
Runners are neither supermodels nor soldiers, but to find a stable trunk and pelvis is to find a completely new mechanical advantage when running helping to mitigate injury risk and improve form.
In distance running, towards the end of long runs or races, when you are fatigued, your form can begin to suffer. Poor form not only slows you down but it can open you up to potential injuries. Building up core strength will help to maintain good posture, stability and technique and help keep you on track (literally).
Now here’s a practical question….
“What are the best Core strength exercises for runners?”
This is certainly the magic question, and there is no SINGLE answer, but this is the formula I think works best for RUNNERS:
(This sequence can be made into a ten min routine or buffed out to an extensive 30min workout. It depends on how much work you require as an individual and also how much time you have!)
An effective core plan should include the following components:
(and I recommend this order)
Eg: supine toe taps, supine knee rotations with your feet in table top, small reverse ab curls
Eg: side crunches, twisted ab curls, side plank variations, hip dips, high kneeling lateral dips
Eg: prone upper back extension with lateral arm movements, swimmer kicks in prone, straight leg scissors lying in prone
Eg: Bird dogs, Planks with arm and leg lifts, mountain climbers, hips dips, bridges with arms, jack knives, roll ups/downs. There are so many!
This 'core formula' means you are addressing the core as an entirety and optimising function in different planes of movement. Quite literally a 3D approach to trunk and pelvic stability to help with injury prevention and performance enhancement through improved efficiency.
If you haven’t guessed already, I’m obviously a massive core strength fan and here’s is why:
Core should not be a chore:
I am a big advocate for physio, rehab, prehab and training being lifestyle friendly. I am a strong believer in balance for runners. You don’t have to dedicate much time or energy into adding simple core work to feel the benefits and I strongly every runner to get on board.
If you don’t know where to start in terms of a specific program, I suggest trying some online Pilates! It addresses all of the above areas of core training so you can get your technique and form down pat. If you would like to try a free class to get your deep core, obliques, glutes and back muscles ‘primed to hit the pavement’ and crank some running PB’s try these two free sessions below!
If you would like a 30min “express ABs with AB” (a core specific live online class with me) email me below and I would love to have you!
Happy running, crunching and planking!
I would like to nominate this particular running injury as being incredible in vogue in 2020. For many reasons, pavement impact has increased, and (just like socks n sandals) shin splint shave made a hard come back. There can be several causes of shin splints, and all of them vary slightly from person to person, but one thing that shin splints are certain of is that they occur from OVERLOAD.
The first thing to note is: GETTING ONTO SHIN SPLINTS EARLY IS KEY IN A QUICK RECOVERY! The longer they linger, the more imbedded the inflammation they can become and mechanical compensatory issues can start to occur. It’s important not to ignore them....
Here is why!
RUNNING! It's a wonderfully addictive sport and as far as km's go you can feel like a kid in a candy store who's saved a tonne of pocket money. We discover new trails and parks, run longer/faster/harder and it almost becomes a game of 'running roulette': how far can we go and still tolerate the impact?
Maybe not straight away but, inevitably, we fall victim to injury and niggles at some point to varying degrees which can be multifaceted in cause.
BUT! How do we bounce back safely and effectively without running the risk of re-injury? What does a 'Return to Running' program look like?
Here are my thoughts....
If you are a runner, inevitably someone has said something along the lines of:
"Oh No! Your poor joints. How do your knees hold up?!"
We can often dismiss this, but the question does not go unwarranted....
There IS a knee condition that is close to my heart and can side line you from running which is called patellofemoral pain or RUNNERS KNEE. It doesn't mean you are going to have "bad knees when you're old" but if you ignore this condition it can kneecap your training for months (pun intended) and take the buzz out of your training. Been there.
Here is the low down!