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If you’ve been around the running world for any length of time you’ve probably heard the term “core” and “core training” thrown around quite a bit.
Training for a marathon requires a time investment it can be challenging to add one more thing to your busy schedule if you really don’t see the importance of how it directly relates to your success in running. That’s why many runners mistakenly don’t focus on exercises to balance and strengthen their running muscles.
Building core strength is an essential element to running effectively since it will improve your running form and decrease the chance of injury.
Here’s why you can’t afford to ignore your core.
The Case for Core Training
Maybe you’ve had the feeling of soreness in your lower back, shoulders or hips during or after long runs. This can be directly related to weak core muscles.
This is definitely something I’ve experienced. When I resumed running after having our last son my core was weak, to say the least (probably the consistency of jello).
It was hard for me to pull my abdominal muscles in tight, much less keep them strong while running. I remember a few long runs as I was building back my base where it felt like my guts were going to fall out (which is not a nice visual or feeling).
It took concentrated effort over a series of weeks and months to build back a strong core and notice improvements in my running.
The Sponge Bob Effect
If your core is soft and spongy (like Sponge Bob) when you run the impact gets absorbed by your core and it takes more effort to propel you forward.
Plus you’re at greater risk of having back problems and other injuries farther down the kinetic chain.
On the other hand, if your core muscles are tight and strong, like a properly inflated basketball, when you take a step you’re going to bounce forward more easily and use your energy more effectively.
What are the Core Muscles?
The core muscles are the stabilizing muscles for your spine and lower body. The core includes the muscles that attach to the pelvis, abdominals, and back.
- In technical terms they are: the gluteal complex (often called glutes) which consist of the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus; the hamstrings, the quadriceps, hip adductors, hip flexors, spinal erectors, the internal obliques and external obliques, latissimus dorsi and, finally, the rectus abdominus (otherwise known as the “six-pack” muscle).
Since the “core” is the foundation for running and all movement, core conditioning is a workout technique that focuses on the muscles mentioned above.
The job of the core is to provide stability and strength for the movement of the body. Our spine contains the central nervous system which controls how effectively we move our arms and legs. Runners must have a strong, stable base to operate in the most efficient way possible.
Why YOU Should Focus on Core Training
Though it might not be obvious, your running gait demands rotational strength and flexibility that core training provides.
Runners can lose the rotational range of motion and lateral strength. If you don’t focus on well rounded conditioning it can lead to injuries such as iliotibial (IT) band syndrome.
Core conditioning provides your body with a solid foundation, giving your legs more strength and increasing your running efficiency. The more strength the muscles connected to the pelvis have, the more solid the foundation of movement through your legs.
The pelvis, knee, and ankle joints all work together. So, if the pelvis is stable, more force will be applied from the foot to the ground upon foot strike. If the pelvis lacks stability then running will apply a tremendous amount of stress to the knee and other joints.
Core training really supports an efficient interaction between the hip, knee and ankle. A smooth, strong relationship between the three joints is essential for runners.
Core conditioning trains the body to have stability and control for the tasks of daily life as well as running. It’s not necessary or even beneficial for the runner to train for strength like a bodybuilder. It’s more important to have compact, functional strength. A cross and strength training routine that is specifically tailored to the demands placed on a runner’s body is ideal.
It’s Easy to Implement Core Training
Core conditioning for strength focuses on creating a stable spine while the pelvis and legs and arms are moving. The exercises can be done with little-to-no equipment and focus on training the spine how to be strong and stable through common and specialized movement patterns.
For example, functional body weight exercises like lunges will give you more bang for your buck than weight machines where you sit and have the weight partially controlled by levers.
We traditionally think of lunges as a leg workout instead of a core workout. But the glutes, hamstrings, quads and hips are all part of the core.
Keep in mind that lunges train the legs, pelvis and spine to work together. Keeping your balance adds challenge and demands that the abdominals and back be engaged and work together.
If you add in additional reaches and rotations to the movement it will further engage the core. That’s why lunging is a crucial exercise for runners with endless variations.
Running is the act of transferring bodyweight from one leg to the other to propel your body forward. Therefore the more strength that can be developed from the core outward will create increased stability and a more efficient stride. And that means better running times and less wear and tear on the joints and tendons!
Effective Core Training for Runners – simple examples of core training movements.