It's easy to see why so many new runners assume that in order to become a better runner, you simply need to run a lot. I mean, principle of specificity, right? And when thinking of what it physically takes to be a strong runner, it's easy to see why so many new runners assume it would be strong legs, strong lungs, and a strong cardiovascular system. After all, those are the parts doing all the work, right?
Well no, not exactly.
The human body is an amazing piece of machinery in which all of its pieces intricately work together. You may have heard of the concept of the "kinetic chain" before. The idea behind the kinetic chain is that every part of your body, including muscles, joints, and nerves, must work together to produce movements. No single movement of the body is independent. So what does all of this mean when it comes to running? In short, it means that there is much more involved in running than simply your legs, lungs, and heart.
And today we're going to talk about core strength.
You don't need a rock solid six pack to be a good runner, but a strong core does help. Believe it or not, your abdominal, lower back, and glute muscles have a huge impact on your running. Although the core itself is not a primary mover, it acts as a stabilizer, keeping your torso upright, your balance strong, and your arms and legs moving fluidly and in control. When you have a weak core, your posture will suffer, especially as you start to get tired, making your running less efficient.
Adding core-specific exercises to your training routine isn't just beneficial, it should be considered absolutely necessary. But don't worry, you don't need any fancy equipment, nor do you need to spend hours in the gym to achieve a strong core.
Here are four exercise that can be done almost anywhere and will help you build a stronger core.
Plank: Lie on your stomach, then raise up onto your toes and forearms. Your toes should be about hip distance apart with your elbows resting on the floor directly under your shoulders. If this is too difficult, lower down to your knees. Engage your stomach, lower back, and glutes to ensure you have a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Hold the position for 30 to 90 seconds.
Side Plank: Lie on your right side, supporting your upper body on your right forearm, with your left arm at your left side. Lift your hips, and keeping your body weight supported on the forearm and the side of the right foot, extend your left arm above your shoulder. Hold your core tight; do not allow your hips to sag toward the floor. Hold this position for 30 to 60 seconds. Switch sides and repeat.
Superman: Lie on your stomach with your arms extended over your head, resting on the floor. Keeping your head in a neutral position, squeeze your lower back and glutes to raise one leg off the ground. At the same time, extend and raise the opposite arm off the ground. Hold for 30 seconds. Relax, then repeat on the opposite side. For a more advanced move, lift both arms and both legs off of the ground at the same time and hold for 30 seconds. You will feel...and look...like Superman flying through the air (hence the name!)
Glute Bridges: Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the ground. Next, lift your hips so there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees (similar to keeping your body flat in the plank position, only now you are facing the opposite direction). Squeeze your glutes tight to keep your hips from sagging. Hold for 30 seconds. For a more advanced move, while in the bridge, extend one leg straight out so your knees are side by side. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch to the other side.
Of course these are countless other core-strengthening exercise options for you to choose from. But whatever you choose, make sure the exercises target all layers of the abdomen, and be sure to include lower back and glute-strengthening exercises. In other words, don't spend all of your energy trying to knock out hundreds of crunches, which typically only target the most superficial layers of the abdomen.
Pay close attention to your form, and take your time with your exercises. A few sets of properly executed exercises will be far more effective than flying through tons of repetitions with bad form and minimal effort.
While I can't promise that you'll end up with a washboard abdomen, I can assure you that adding core-strengthening exercises to your training will make you a stronger, more efficient runner.