Down to the Core (of Running)
Down to the Core (of Running)
This week’s segment takes on the “core” of running. That’s right, I’m talking about that midsection, you know, where that six pack usually goes. Not all of have a six pack to show off, but that doesn’t mean the muscles don’t exist. There’s more to having a six pack than having an aesthetically pleasing body. Your core has a big responsibility in supporting your body and keeping you over rotating the spine and pelvis. In fact, the three main tasks your core is responsible for while you’re running are:
- Support of the pelvis and the spine and make sure that it is properly aligned
- Keep spinal rotation in check
- Regulate the transfer of energy between the upper and lower halves of your body
Sounds simple enough, right? Well, what happens when your core is weak and is not effective at doing it’s job? Compensation and injury happen. Poor core stability means that you will typically experience poor joint stability. It all starts with the center of the body and flows out to the hips, knees, and ankles. If you remember me talking about the amount of force running places on your joints, you’ll better understand that this is a big factor of remaining injury free. when your pelvis, knees, and ankles are competing against one another to stay in line, things start to shift out of place. This puts extra work on tendons, ligaments, and smaller stabilizing muscles. One way to combat this and work to strengthen your core is to work the deep muscles of the transverse abdominals. These muscles wrap the body in a corset-like manner, creating a strong base of support. One of the best ways to work the TA is by planking. There are other exercises that also mimic this movement, but planks can be done anywhere. Make sure your wrists or elbows are directly underneath your shoulder, and your hips and ankles (or knees) are in one line. You should be able to hypothetically put a stick on the back of your body while doing a plank and have each part touch the above mentioned parts. Squeeze your glutes and inner thighs and resist forcefully locking out your knee joints. That doesn’t mean to purposefully bend them, but more to keep them straight and relaxed. You should be trying to pull your belly button toward your spine.
Your spine and your pelvis are attached but that doesn’t mean they need to move together. In fact, you need some rotation with running in order for your back leg to propel you in a linear and forward motion, however, your spine should not rotate along with your pelvis during this motion. Spinal rotation will deplete energy stores. An effective core exercise to work rotation in this manner is Russian Twists. Sitting on your buttux with feet on the floor and knees bent, lean back and push your belly button toward your spine. This will create a “c” position. Keeping this “c” position, clasp your hands together with outreached hands. Keeping your feet planted on the floor, rotate your hands to your left side, rotating the upper half of your body. Rotate across your body to your right side. Repeat to either side. To make this exercise more difficult, add a medicine ball or free weight instead of clasping your hands. Make sure you create a closed circuit with either your hands or weight to create a more effective move.
Looking to set a new PR in your next race? Make core strengthening a priority. A strong core means you will be more efficient at transferring the forces between the upper and lower body. Yes, powerful legs make for a powerful runner, but your upper body also contributes to that force. I don’t know about you, but it’s pretty tricky to run with your arms down by your side. When your core is strong, it can transfer the force generated by your upper body, seamlessly and without losing a lot of that energy, to your lower body. This makes for a far more powerful stride, therefore creating a faster cadence and alas, new PR! So the next exercise that can help to strengthen your midsection is woodchoppers. You can use a medicine ball, free weight, or d-handle cable pulley system to complete this exercise. Make sure that you have a slight bend in the knees, and good posture. If using a medicine ball or free weight, start with arms shoulder height and out straight in front of you. Come across your body with your arms and down toward your opposite ankle. Reverse back to starting position and repeat. This is forcing your body to rotate and causes your obliques to try to resist the rotation.
Try incorporating these exercises into your strength training and see if your running form and time improves. Make sure you give yourself about 6 weeks or so to see full improvement. Not only will you see a difference in your running, but I bet you’ll see a difference in your overall strength.