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Running is nothing else but a pair of legs, the heart, and the lungs. Or is it?
FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS ARTICLE, THE CORE CONSISTS OF THESE MUSCLES:
Although having a good pair of legs, healthy heart, and strong lungs is necessary for good running, there is one (at least) more part we need to address to make us good runners.
Whether you want to be a faster, better, healthier, or all of the above, runner, you need to have a strong core. In recent history, there have been many articles, books, videos, debates, and opinions on how to train your core, and what is the best way to do so. Some of the methods are more appropriate than others, depending on what your specific goal is, but one sure thing is that there are a lot of runners out there who train their core and are, in my opinion, doing it incorrectly.
In order to understand how to train the core we first need to understand what the core is. To most people, having a strong core does not go beyond anything else but having a visible six pack; but, that could not be further from the truth. Knowing your core’s anatomy is just one piece of the puzzle on how to train it right. In order to train the core effectively we need to know the true function of these muscles that your core is made of. And that is a part where many of us make major mistakes.
For the longest time, people have been training their core (and arguably every other muscle) based on what your muscles CAN do. Instead we should train our muscles based on what they are DESIGNED to do.
Think of it this way: you could cut bread with your scissors, but a bread knife makes it easier/better. You could also cut paper with your bread knife but … Get the picture? Just because you CAN it does not mean it the BEST way. Now I want you to think as a runner, before you answer this question: While running, do you want your midsection/core to flex, extend, rotate, and/or side bend? If you answered YES, then think again, or better, watch a video on good running form, and answer again.
If you answered NO, then why would you want to train your midsection/core by flexing, extending, rotating, and side bending? Just because you CAN it does not mean you SHOULD.
While you are running (and not just running), your core muscles are DESIGNED to:
1. STABILIZE your spine and
2. TRANSFER forces between moving parts (your legs and arms).
Just because your six pack CAN flex your torso/spine, it does not mean it is there to do that. It is there to PREVENT extension of your torso/spine. Just because your obliques CAN rotate your torso/spine, their function is to PREVENT rotation and torso/spine extension. Just because your QL CAN side bend, it does not mean you should grab a dumbbell and start side bending like that guy in the gym who has good-looking abs. An don and on we go.
Those are PRIMARY functions of your core. Now that we know this, we can design an appropriate, running-specific core training program.
Enter the “Anti-Core” Training Program
Don’t let the name fool you. The program consists of exercises designed to PREVENT flexion, extension, rotation,side bending, and any combination of these exercises. It will challenge you like nothing Properly executed heavy dead lifts, front squats, and else out there and strengthen your core… well, to the core.
Properly executed heavy dead lifts, front squats, and other front-loaded exercises are also known (in my book) as“anti-flexion” exercises. Just make sure that the load is appropriate.
Many runners use too light of a load (out of fear of“bulking up”) so they do not engage any core muscles while doing these exercises.
Exercises such as 4, 3, and 2-point plank, roll-out, and pushups are “anti-extension” exercises.
In order to prevent too much rotation while running, we should be doing variations of Pallof presses (standing, kneeling,“lunging”), single arm pulls/pushes using bands and cables. Allthese exercises are also known as “anti-rotation” exercises.Side planks, single arm/leg (lunge with overhead press,for example) and off-center loaded-type exercises, such assuitcase carry, waiter’s carry or lunge with weight in one hand,will strengthen muscles which prevent lateral/side bending.
Yes, that would be your QL.
Those are just few examples of exercises you should be doing to strengthen your core in order to be a better, faster,and less injured runner.
STOP flexing, extending, rotating, bending, and doing combinatiosn of any two or three of these movements if running performance is your goal.
And yes… don’t forget, you still need to work on the legs,heart, and lungs too.
Jasmin Lepir has over 17 years of experience in the fitness industry and is a Certified Strength and Conditional Specialist with the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA-CSCS) and a VDOTO2 Distance Running Coach. He is the owner of the Philadelphia Endurance Enhancement Project, LLC and is currently conducting personal training sessions at the Spark Fitness, LLC as well as the Philmont Country Club.