This summer, running alone won’t improve your run performance. Take your summer running up a gear with core strength training and you’ll be on track to your strongest run results ever.
Here, run coach Dom Cadden shares why every runner needs good core strength – and how to get it.
What Is the Role of the Core During Running?
When people think of running, they usually think of the importance of strong leg muscles and a powerful and long-lasting heart. But in fact, running is a full body effort, and the impact of the strength of the core on your running is much greater than you might think.
In this case, the core refers to the central part of the body that includes everything aside from the arms, legs, and head. But what exactly does the core do while you’re running?
While you run, your core helps to provide general balance, support, and stability, as your legs churn underneath you and your arms pump beside you to propel you forward. The core is responsible for your posture and vertical alignment as well, and it helps resist the forces of gravity and keep you from falling over.
Because the core is centrally located and connects your extremities, it is essential to coordinate movement between your arms and legs and make sure they work in tandem to keep you going. Incorporating specific exercises can be highly beneficial for runners to strengthen your core.
A core workout for runners could include exercises such as leg raises, bird dogs, dumbbell exercises, supermans, bicycle crunches, and dead bugs. These exercises target different areas of the core and help improve stability and strength.
For example, leg raises can be performed by lying on your back, raising your legs off the ground, and slowly lowering them back down. Starting with 10 reps and gradually increasing the number can be effective. Bird dogs involve starting in a tabletop position and extending the left arm and right leg simultaneously, then switching sides.
To perform dumbbell exercises for the core, you can hold a dumbbell in your right hand, extend your right arm overhead, and then lower it while lifting your left knee. Switch sides and repeat.
In addition to specific core exercises, a proper warm-up and cool-down routine is essential before and after running. This can help prevent running injuries and prepare your body for the workout. It's also important to wear appropriate running shoes that provide proper support and cushioning.
If you're unsure about the best core exercises for your running routine, consulting with a running coach or a fitness professional can provide guidance tailored to your specific needs and goals. They can help you identify exercises that target the erector muscles, pelvic floor, and other core muscles to improve your overall running form.
They can also provide tips on proper form and technique during exercises such as push-ups, mountain climbers, and switch-sides exercises.
Remember, developing a strong core through a regular core workout routine can significantly benefit your running performance and reduce the risk of running injuries. So, make sure to prioritize your core training alongside your running regimen for optimal results.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR ME?
Put simply, a more efficient run with reduced risk of injury. What’s not to love?
BETTER TRANSMISSION OF ENERGY
The core muscles 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. When it comes to running the “six-pack” muscles (rectus abdominis) are for show, not go – these are the least important core muscles for running. The muscles doing the grunt work are deeper down close to the spine, and allow the spine and hips to rotate in order to drive the back leg forward.
BETTER ENERGY EFFICIENCY
Poor core strength can cause the upper body and hips to wobble, which means your hamstrings have to work extra hard and the knees and lower leg muscles take a hammering as they try to control your torso rocking about. A strong core helps reduce wasted movement and energy.
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 wearing shoes compared to pushing a car on gravel wearing thongs. You want to be on the bitumen.
SAFER, STRONGER DOWNHILL RUNNING
A strong core helps dissipate and absorb the impact forces of running downhill and counters the forward momentum, so you’re less likely to go head over heels.
The challenges of running downhill are often overlooked because of how much more difficult and strenuous uphill running is. But if the hill you’re running down is really steep, you’d be surprised how one small misstep can lead to an unfortunate tumble. Strong core muscles provide invaluable stability in this scenario and can be the difference between your body recovering and righting itself from a bad step.
BETTER BALANCE ON TECHNICAL TERRAIN
The core muscles help stabilise your body in every direction, and act quickly to counterbalance any twist or fall. This is especially important when running on trails, sand or other uneven surfaces.
When racing or running for time, this can be the difference between breaking your PR or not. Every second counts and any time you have to spend struggling to adjust to uneven terrain is valuable time lost. Running up a bumpy hill or across a rocky road is difficult enough in and of itself, and you will be much more equipped to conquer the path ahead if your body can naturally adjust.
Injury prevention is also a huge part of the benefits of strengthening your core, as described further below. Uneven surfaces are more conducive to twisted ankles, unexpected falls, and muscle strains from odd steps. To accomplish your goals and prevent having to take time off to recover, take the time to train your core to help reduce the risk of falling.
REDUCED RISK OF INJURY
When the muscles in the hips and trunk work together, you don’t get as many injuries. Poor core strength can cause poor posture, 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 other and places excessive pressure on the leg. This may lead to issues such as iliotibial band (ITB) syndrome, shin splints and lower back issues.
For endurance runners, good core strength helps them maintain form as fatigue sets in. Without core strength, you can be reduced to slouching, shuffling and wobbling through the upper body, which puts stress on the hips, knees, shins and back and impacts your ability to breathe efficiently.
Compression for Core Strength and Running
Performing your run or core workout in compression gear is a great way to support your performance and recovery and ensure you get the most out of your training. Compression clothes work hard to support blood flow and circulation, maintain your body’s natural injury prevention by holding your muscles in place, and can soothe muscle fatigue, swelling, and discomfort.
Compression gear can complement your core workout by providing your muscles with additional stability, postural awareness, and support as you train. These effects are also similar to what maintaining a good core-based training regimen can enact upon your body, as you will feel an overall boost in stability and muscle control.
If you’re looking to support blood flow throughout your lower body and specifically your leg muscles, which are crucial for running, try one of our high-quality pairs of compression tights. With options that include tights designed specifically for running and recovery, you’re sure to find a pair perfect for your training plan.
Our women’s tights also include high-waisted options, which can provide some support to your lower abdominal muscles and encourage you to maintain better posture.
Try one of our world-leading men’s or women’s compression tops for upper body and back muscle support. Compression tops will help your body with postural awareness and maintain healthy blood flow and circulation throughout your torso and arms.
This may also increase your body’s awareness in holding a horizontal straight line when assuming a plank position or other core exercise, which minimizes the likelihood of your back curving and leading to discomfort from poor body alignment.
The tight fit of compression tops makes them less likely to ride up or slide around while performing tough core exercises or holding intricate positions as well. They can be easily layered underneath any of your other athletic tops for convenience and warmth.
HOW DO I GET IT
So, what are the best ways to strengthen the core? Crunches and sit-ups were once thought of as the supreme rulers of core exercises, but adding variety and targeting different muscles within the core will provide you with more well-rounded results.
ISOMETRIC CORE WORK
Isometric core exercises – where the effort is “held” so the joint angle and muscle position don’t change – will help you develop and hold good running posture. Try holding a light weight directly overhead with arms extended and walk, lunge or squat.
PELVIC ROTATION & HIP FLEXOR STRETCHES
Many abdominal exercises shorten or contract the hip flexors, but running requires you to extend them. Try this exercise: Stand on one leg with a chair or exercise ball behind you and push the chair or ball back with the other foot. Here’s another one: Lie on your front with your legs and arms fully extended, then try to raise your legs, arms and chest off the floor. For variation, raise one leg and the opposite arm, alternating sides.
Sit on the floor with your feet flat and lean back slightly. Hold a small weight or ball with your arms fully extended and twist to touch the floor each side of the body.
Twists can also be done in a lunge position for additional leg strength training. Simply step either your right leg or left leg back and bend your legs into 90-degree angles, forming a lunge. Then twist your upper body 90 degrees towards the side of the front leg and back to the front.
You can resume a neutral standing position between each rep or hold the lunge as you twist each time for an added challenge. This can be done with or without a weight or medicine ball.
LATERAL CORE/GLUTE STABILITY
Side planks are a great exercise for core/glute stability. Start by lying on your side with your body weight supported by your forearm. Raise your hips so you have a straight diagonal line between your top shoulder and feet. Hold, then lower slowly to the floor.
For a targeted glute exercise, you can also do a glute bridge. Lay on your back, position your feet directly under your knees, and lift your hips up until your body forms a straight line. Lower your hips until they almost touch the ground, and then push back up again.
Yoga and Pilates Classes
If you desire a more structured level of core training, you can always try a yoga or pilates class. Poses and movements involved in these classes can require a good deal of core strength to complete and hold, which can make you stronger while also providing a layer of mobility and breathing training as well as relaxation or meditation benefits. You can always ask the instructor and clarify that classes will emphasize core strength.
Yoga and pilates also provide a social aspect to your core training that may not be achievable at home, and if this, along with set class times, is more likely to motivate you, then go for it. The key is to find either classes or exercises you enjoy so your core workouts don’t feel like a drag, and you actually look forward to them.
With just a little time and effort, core strength training will take your running forward in leaps and… planks.