I’ve always stressed the value of core work. But it wasn’t until coming back from my second titanium femur and hip (good grief!) that I truly understood its importance. And it’s making a radical difference for my running, the runner’s I train, and for Jessica…who is now silly faster-than-ever.
Turns out, running doesn’t start from the feet, legs, or even arms. It all comes from the core.
Think of it as the foundation for your house…or the frame on your car. With a weak and wimpy foundation, the house crumbles…a weak frame on your car, and you can’t put the power down, and steering’s more than a bit sketchy (think old Buick’s…I know because I owned one!)
Or cyclists, think of a wimpy, spaghetti-like bike frame. When you pedal fast it just squishes beneath you (ewwww).
When you run with a weak core, there’s not just wasted energy with each stride, but overuse, as your smaller muscle groups in your feet and lower legs (think Achilles here) have to try and hold things together. Knees get hurt, hips ache, and IT bands go crazy because there’s no stability above.
Conversely, when things are strong, arm movement directly translates to leg movement…It’s direct drive. Your head holds steady, shoulders don’t fatigue, and your legs can truly put the power down.
This means lighter running, faster leg turn-over, greater efficiency, and if you’re into it, more PR’s.
But let me tell you the most important reason…at least for me. No more falling. When you trip on the trails with even an average core, you lose your balance, stumble, and quite possibly fall.
But when you’re core is rock strong and engaged (even if there’s padding in front of it!) if you catch a foot, or start to roll an ankle, the rest of your body doesn’t budge. You don’t fall. You don’t roll the ankle, and you keep on going.
This is huge. It means you’re safer on the trails, there’s much less chance of injury, and you can navigate the tough stuff with much greater ease.
So what core work should you do?
Well, for me, anything and everything that’s safe for the back. I’m not a big sit-up guy, that’s often a lot more leg and a lot less core, but if that’s your thing go for it.
(A modified version of one of my favorite home exercises…I like bringing my arms behind me like jumping jacks when I extend my legs)
I know this may sound sacrilege, but almost ANY core work is better than none, and is essential for your running.
What I’ve been doing is a whole core routine I can even do in the home. It’s like a modified pilates routine for runners, part on the mat, part standing up. I also love the ab machines. I do forward crunches, LOTS of side work, and a funky machine called the ab-roller.
My suggestion for all my runners, focus on higher resistance, lower repetition to build maximum strength. The goal here is to work your abs to maximal fatigue.
And make sure you’re not just getting your upper abdominals. You want to get your side muscles (obliques) and your lower abdominal muscles, something that typically takes mat work with your legs extended, or being elevated (like on a chair for dips) and bringing your legs up in front of you.
Just work in slowly with controlled motions to always keep your back safe.
Now these are general descriptions, and I’m sure other pros can tell you why you want this exercise over that…and they’re right. But my goal here today is to get you started doing core work and lots of it.
Just build in slowly (something we’re not good at as runners) or seek a coach, trainer, PT, or other guru to ensure you stay safe and use great form.
Last Note, Keep It Engaged:
What you do when you’re NOT running is in many ways MORE important than when you are running. Work to keep your core tightened and firing, throughout the entire day, especially when you sit.
Keeping the core engaged strengthens it, protects your back, and according to the latest research, such as by Amy Cuddy, author of Presence, and who has a viral Ted Talk, changes your mood, concentration, creativity and memory.
So don’t walk, but run to your gym or mat today—or even your carpet, and get busy on your core. You’re running will thank you for it, your joints and back will thank you for it. And the next time you’re on the trails and catch a foot, YOU will be thanking you for it!
Happy core! Happy trails! And Run Free!