Core strength for runners

Dom Cadden

When we think of the important moving bits required for running, we think of the upper legs, the calves, the feet, maybe even the arms pumping back and forth. However, let’s not forget those muscles stuck in the middle from mid-torso to the top of the thigh. Here’s why every runner, no matter what their running type or distance, needs good core strength.

ketllebell swing

BETTER TRANSMISSION OF ENERGY

The muscles of the core help transmit energy from the legs through to the gluteal (butt) muscles, and transfer the power generated through the arms to propulsion through the legs. The “six-pack” muscles (rectus abdominis) are for show, not go, and are the least important core muscle for running. The muscles doing the grunt work are deeper, closer to the spine, and they allow the spine and hips to rotate so they help drive the back leg forward.

A STABLE BASE

A strong, stable core gives your legs a better base to push from, especially when sprinting or going uphill. It’s like pushing a car on bitumen while wearing shoes compared to trying to push a car on gravel while wearing thongs.

MAXIMISE ENERGY EFFICIENCY

Poor core strength can cause your upper body and hips can wobble about. This means your hamstrings have to work extra hard and the knees and muscles of the lower legs take a hammering as they try to control your torso rocking about. A strong core helps reduce this wasted movement and energy.

SAFER AND STRONGER GOING DOWNHILL

A strong core helps to dissipate and absorb the impact forces of running downhill, plus, it counters the forward momentum so that you’re less likely to fall on your face.

IMPROVE BALANCE ON TECHNICAL TERRAIN

Your core muscles help to stabilise your body in every direction and act quickly to counterbalance any twist or fall.

REDUCE INJURY

When the muscles in the hip and trunk work together, you don’t get as many injuries. Poor core strength can cause poor posture (e.g. slouching or stooping), which can contribute to soreness in the lower back, hips, shoulders, knees, and even the ankles. When the core muscles aren’t working enough, other muscles need to work harder to compensate. A good example is when weak core strength leads to ‘hip drop’, which is where one hips drops below the height of the other and places excessive pressure on the leg. This can cause issues such as Iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome, shin splints and lower back issues.

BETTER PERFORMANCE FOR LONGER

For endurance runners, good core strength helps prevent their form falling apart as fatigue sets in. Without core strength, you can be reduced to shuffling, slouching, and the upper body ‘wobble’, all of which puts stress on the hips, knees, shins, back, and even your ability to breathe efficiently.

Get a stronger core for running with…

ISOMETRIC CORE WORK

An exercise that works much of your core isometrically (the joint angle and muscle position doesn’t change – it’s a “hold”) will help you develop and hold good running posture. Try holding a light weight directly over your head with arms extended and walk, lung or squat.

PELVIC ROTATION AND HIP FLEXOR STRETCH

Many abdominal exercises shorten or contract the hip flexors, but running requires you to extend them. Try the ball/chair exercise. Stand on one leg with a chair or Fit Ball behind you and push the ball/chair back with the other foot. The ‘Superman’ also does the trick. Lie on your front with legs and arms fully extended, then try to raise legs arms and chest off the floor. For variation, raise one leg and the opposite arm, alternating sides.

TWISTING MOTIONS

Sit on the floor with feet flat and lean back slightly. Hold a small weight or ball with arms fully extended and twist to touch the floor level with each hip.

LATERAL CORE / GLUTE STABILITY

Do a side plank, start by lying on your side with your weight propped up on your forearm. Now raise your hips so that you have a straight diagonal line between shoulder and feet. Hold at the top, then lower slowly to the floor.