Runners seeking to become faster often focus on a variety of techniques to strengthen the muscles of the leg, hoping to drive more power and speed from their running, while overlooking the core muscles from the shoulders to the hips that support the “power” muscles in their work. This is a mistake as it is often a lack of core strength that is a limiting factor in people’s running.
Many people believe that when we talk about the core, we are only talking about the muscles of the abdomen and back. The truth is that the core includes all the muscles between the shoulders and the hips. For runners, the most important core muscles are the transverse abdominals, the multifidus, erector spinalis, and quadratus Lumborum muscles, which work together to hold the body upright and balanced, along with the hip flexors, abductors, and adductors which control and stabilize the hip. A strong core provides balance and maximizes the efficiency of each stride, allowing the runner to maintain a forward position and not lose momentum as the feet land and push off into the next stride.
Before I talk about the core exercises, it’s very important for beginners to be prepared, so before you do any exercises or running you need a good pair of running shoes, my advice for buying any style of exercise shoes is to visit a store and try on the shoes to see how they fit, are they comfortable and how they feel when you walk or run.
When you find the pair of shoes that are right for you, simply go online and buy them at a lower cost from an online retailer such as, Ebay, Amazon or a comparison site like dsstuff.com, Avoid fashion sneakers they are no good for any type of workout, my own shoes are the Asics Gel Intensity 2 learn more here, they offer excellent support for running but they are also a cross running shoe so you can do more than just running.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to buy a pair of quality shoes for running, over the years I have see a number of injury’s caused by athletes wearing the wrong shoes, please don’t try any of the training information below without warming up and wearing running shoes.
So, what are some of the best exercises to help a runner develop a strong core? Here are 5 that every runner should add to their workout routine.
Plank with Destabilization – Most people are aware that planks are a more effective way than sit-ups or crunches to work the transverse abdominus and the other muscles which draw in and support the abdomen. A plank is performed by placing your hands and feet shoulder width apart, keeping straight arms and a straight line from the top of your head down through your toes. Hold this position for as long as you can. The goal is to be able to hold the plank with good form for up to 5 minutes. Get more from this exercise by destabilizing – add leg raises to target the gluteal muscles as well, raise and lower your weight from your hands down onto your forearms and raise back up, or raise each leg out to the side, moving your knees towards your elbows. This makes your muscles work harder and builds core strength more quickly.
Plank to Side Plank to Starfish – from straight arm plank, transfer your weight to the outside of your right foot and right hand. Stack your left foot on the instep of your right foot, and stretch your left hand straight up in the air towards the ceiling. Your body should appear as a side-lying T, with a straight line from your heels up through the top of your head, and a straight line from the fingertips of your upstretched left hand down to the palm of the right hand planted into the floor. Now, raise your right leg to hip level. Hold for 1 minute or until your muscles reach fatigue, then return to plank. Repeat 3 times on each side.
Leg Bridges with Leg Raises – The core includes all the muscles from the shoulders down through the hips, and this includes the glutes. One of the problems with the gluteal muscles that can adversely affect runners is lack of engagement of these muscles, as they can tend to be overridden by tight hip flexors. Leg bridges are a good way of counteracting this. To perform the exercise, lie on your back with your arms at your sides, palms pushing into the floor. Now pull in your feet towards your buttocks and lift up your hips into a hip bridge. Hold for one minute, squeezing your buttocks and pushing your hips as high as you can. When this exercise is easy, add destabilization by including leg raises: straighten out one leg, lift it over your hips and then lower while continuing to hold the bridge position with your other leg. Repeat 10 – 20 times on each leg.
Pilates-style Reclined March – Lie flat on your back with your arms at your sides and your palms facing the floor. Draw your legs up so that your hips and knees form two 90 degree angles – think of your shins as forming the support for a table top. Keeping the hip and knee angles unchanged, use your lower abdominal muscles (NOT the hip flexors) to lower and lift the leg back to the original position. Ensure that the lower back is grounded into the floor and do not allow the hips to rock while doing this exercise. Repeat 20 times on each leg. If this exercise seems easy, you may be doing it wrong – if done properly, you should feel this in the lower ABS. It takes practice, but is worth the effort.
Arm – Leg Transfers with Swiss Ball – Lie flat on the floor while holding a Swiss ball in your hands. Stretch your hands over your head and extend your legs with your toes pointed away from you. Lift the hands (still holding onto the ball) and feet towards each other in a slow and controlled motion. When they meet above your body, transfer the ball so that you are holding it between your feet. Now lower your hands and feet towards the floor, again using a slow and controlled movement. Repeat for 15 – 20 repetitions. If this exercise is too easy, you can increase the difficulty by also raising the head and shoulders off the ground.
Adding these 5 exercises to your workout routine will definitely help you build the core strength needed to become a faster and more powerful runner!