Core Exercises Every Runner Should Do
Surely you have read or heard on more than one occasion how important it is to strengthen the core or the core muscles . But do you really know what the core is ?
Maybe you think that it only has to do with getting well-defined abs (the famous six-pack). However, training the core goes far beyond the purely aesthetic purpose.
In this article we will explain which are the muscles that make up the core , the benefits of strengthening them and some basic exercises that you should know.
What is the ‘ Core ‘?
As its name suggests, the core is the core of muscles in the central part of the body. This is so because it includes all the muscles of the middle zone and from them we obtain the greatest amount of force to move. In addition, they are responsible for supporting our body, along with the spine.
There is no exact definition that describes exactly all the muscles that include the core . However, they are said to include the muscles that make up the abs, hips, and lower back (lumbar, pelvis, glutes, and deep back muscles).
But why is it important that these muscles are strong? And what functions do this group of muscles fulfill in running? The answer is very simple: abdominal muscles help you breathe properly , protect your internal organs, and serve as postural support. Those of the hips give you the stability you need to perform the basic movements of the day to day , while those of the lower back are essential so that you can maintain a proper posture .
The most important function of this group of muscles is to give stability to the body for any type of movement you perform. It is, therefore, the body and postural control zone that gives you the balance you need to perform any type of task .
Benefits of Strengthening Core Muscles
Any training program for an athlete should include exercises to strengthen the core, since a strong core is the key to achieving greater efficiency in the movements .
In the case of running, giving the runner more power will help improve their physical performance and avoid the appearance of injuries as much as possible . Therefore, we are now going to see all the benefits of a well-strengthened core .
1. Greater Balance and Stability
When you run we need balance and stability. Think that you never have both feet on the ground, one is always in the air with each stride. That means that your body needs your core muscles to be able to help you maintain balance and not fall while running.
So well-strengthened core muscles will give you the extra hold and strength you need to move nimbly during a run. And what is even more important, without injuring yourself.
2. Better Economy and Efficiency
A runner with good running economy is one who saves energy. That is, he is able to run using only the muscles necessary for the race and that he requires a lower amount of oxygen when running at a certain pace.
Having a weak core means running with poor technique and ineffective work. This is because some muscles are exercised unnecessarily to compensate for shock and sway . Therefore, by strengthening the core you will improve your running form, which will provide you with greater efficiency and economy.
3. Reduced Fatigue and Improved Breathing
As I have already mentioned, the fact of using only the core muscle groups and avoiding the use of unnecessary muscles will contribute to a lower energy expenditure. This will also help improve your breathing when running.
You will make better use of the oxygen that your muscles need to run and, as a consequence, you will be able to run longer or faster before you start to fatigue .
4. Lower Probability of Injury and Discomfort
With every stride we take while running, our body and back take a hit. This happens repetitively throughout the workout and can be a problem for a weak core . Strengthening the core muscles of our body will give our back the necessary strength and containment so that our lower back does not suffer .
In fact, back and lower back pain is a common discomfort among beginning runners, but it can be avoided. Remember that a strong and balanced core will help us run with the proper posture and minimize the possibility of suffering more serious pain or injury.
5. Performance Improvement
A strong middle zone means a solid and stable spine as we run. The more stability and firmness we give to our back, the more effective our movements will be .
That extra power will help you run more and improve your running performance. In fact, according to a study carried out at the University of Barry (Florida) , it affirms that it is possible to run faster after strengthening the core .
The study was carried out on 20 runners who did a training program for 6 weeks and who saw their marks reduced by up to 47 seconds by running 5,000 meters.
Basic Exercises to Strengthen the Core
Surely while you have been reading this article you have thought about exercising your core and you have imagined doing the typical sit-ups where you lie down and bend your trunk up with your arms behind your neck. If you like doing that kind of sit-up go ahead, but there is life beyond.
In fact, this type of exercise is not the one that I am going to recommend. There are other types of more recommended techniques where in addition to the abdominals you will be exercising other core muscle groups at the same time .
We are going to know some basic exercises (and above all effective), to perform a correct core strengthening . You will not need any type of specialized material or equipment to do them, so you can exercise them anywhere.
Irons or ‘planks’ are great for strengthening your core muscles . It is a simple isometric exercise to perform, where you only have to maintain the same position for a period of time. As you can see, it is a position similar to that of a push-up, but supporting the elbows and arms.
With this exercise you will strengthen the hip muscles (glute and hamstrings) which will also tone them to the maximum. Planks will also help you exercise your back, shoulder, and neck muscles, as well as your lower and side abdominal muscles .
Although it seems simple, when you start you will realize that it is hard to hold with a straight back like a board. Hold the position for 30 seconds, rest another 30 and repeat . Increase the seconds and the number of repetitions gradually. When you are able to endure a lot, you can increase the difficulty by touching the opposite shoulder with your hand and changing arms while maintaining the position.
If you are a beginner or have never done much sports, you can start doing this exercise by supporting your knees . When the days go by and you look stronger and more balanced, dare to support yourself with the balls of your feet. Little by little you will hold out for longer and you will even dare to add weight on your back to complicate the exercise.
2. Side Planks
The ‘side planks’ or lateral plates are very similar to the previous ones. You must maintain the position, but sideways and with only one point of support. With this exercise, you will work your oblique abs and lower back muscles more.
It is a more demanding exercise in terms of balance, so at first it may be difficult for you to maintain your posture. If you find it too difficult, the first few times you can support one knee to gain more stability and extend the other leg.
Over time, the ideal is that you hold on maintaining the position and that you also dare to complicate it more by lifting one of the legs or performing trunk rotations by lowering the other arm.
To start, hold the pose for about 30 seconds and rest for another 30 . Then switch sides and do the same exercise. Increase the difficulty by increasing the time and repetitions.
3. Bird Dog (Bird-Dog)
This exercise commonly known as ‘bird-dog’ consists of the extension of one leg and an alternate arm at the same time. Here the level of stability control is extreme , so at first you must do it very slowly so as not to fall.
To do it correctly you must lift your left arm and right leg. You will have to fully extend them very slowly and hold them for a few seconds in that position. When you do, tighten your glutes and abdomen.
Then you will return to the initial quadruped position and perform the same movement with the other leg and your alternate arm. Do 16 repetitions on each side.
As you will see, this exercise tests your stability by helping you strengthen it. As time passes, you will find that you are able to alternate positions faster and that you have greater control over the muscles involved in the movements.
4. Brigdes (Bridges)
The ‘bridges’ or bridges are the ideal exercise to strengthen the hips and lower back. In this case you have to perform hip raises placing your arms well stretched on the floor, next to the body.
You just have to lie down and raise your hips as much as you can with your legs bent, tightly squeezing your glutes and abs. Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions slowly.
To increase the difficulty you can complicate the exercise by doing the same as in the example photo. Do one set raising the normal hip, another set raising the left leg, another set raising just the hip, and another set raising the right leg.
5. Bicycle Crunches (Bicycle Style Abs)
It is the turn of the pure and hard abs. These ‘crunches’ are known as bicycle-style crunches because of the movement you must perform with your legs. It is a very complete exercise because with it we work the front and oblique abs. And, at the same time, we also exercise the neck , quadriceps and glutes .
Lie on your back with your legs extended and off the ground. Put your hands behind your head and bend your left knee as you rotate your upper torso to the right. You should try to make the elbow flexing of your right arm touch the left knee . Then do the same with the other arm and the other knee.
You can perform another variant or alternate it with the previous one that consists of maintaining the position with your arms up and your shoulder blades in the air. Now you should move your legs in a 90º position as if pedaling in the air, but without bending them as much as before.
Strengthen the Core , But Take Care of Posture
When you do sit-ups or core strengthening exercises, you should pay attention to taking care of your posture. Otherwise, not only will they not be effective at all, but they can also cause you some unnecessary injury.
Remember not to raise your torso too high or your lower back. You must perform the force with the abs and glutes so as not to damage your back or your neck . On the other hand, so that the cervical area does not suffer, hold the nape with your hands. Also, do not close your elbows too much so that you are forced to rotate your trunk more and that the exercise is more intense and, therefore, more effective.
If you still see that you are not constant with your workouts, you can change them by attending Yoga or Pilates classes . These disciplines are ideal because they are based on performing exercises to strengthen the middle area of your body. The good thing is that you will have the help of a monitor that will correct your posture if you do not execute it correctly.