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“If your core is weak, nothing else can be strong”
foundation of muscular balance and core stability is essential for middle and
long distance runners. Strengthening your core will allow your body to
efficiently transfer force from the lower to the upper body and back again,
thus ensuring that any force you exert to move your body forward is not wasted
on unnecessary stabilization. Your running economy, speed and power will
improve with a strong core, thus running faster with less effort and supporting
a strong and enduring stride.
Before you go
and do all sorts of variations of abdominal exercises, thinking that you are
doing core strengthening exercises, the “core” does not consist of abdomen
only. It includes your upper back muscles for head carriage, gluteals (better
known as buttocks) for pelvis stabilization and oblique muscles (at the sides
of the abdominal muscle). In relation to the previous training article “Running
Form Focuses”, poor alignment of core muscles makes one more prone to injury.
For example, a poorly aligned pelvis may cause lower back pain and hamstring
basic core strengthening exercises use bodyweight for resistance, and are only
a few of many. It is recommended to do the exercises 3 times a week for maximum
results. You can start off with 1 to 2 sets of 10 to 12 repetitions and
progress on the 3 to 5 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions, unless otherwise stated;
you may also progress on to more advance exercises as your core gets stronger
and add in equipment such as a Swiss ball.
If you are new to doing the
exercises, it will be helpful to get someone to guide you in correcting your
alignment. If you have a full-length mirror, use it to see your body position.
Move slowly through each
repetition and aim for total control instead of using momentum – it is more
important to maintain quality than quantity.
Breath normally as you are
doing the exercise. Avoid breath-holding.
SUPINE BENT-KNEE RAISES (Picture
(Recruits deep abdominal muscles and for lumbopelvic
Lie on your back, with
knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Brace the abdominal wall, holding the
lumbar spine in a neutral position, and slowly raise one foot 15-30cm off the
ground with alternate legs. Common errors when performing this exercise include
rocking the pelvis, abdominal protrusion, or excessive arching of the lower
back. If this happens, discontinue the exercise for a rest period.
Progression: The exercise can progress
to alternately extending the legs and lowering to the ground, or starting the
exercise with legs off the floor (knees bent or straight) and lowering. You may
add alternate, overhead arm raises for greater challenge once you can maintain
stability with alternate leg lifts. The arm raises should be performed slowly,
while maintaining lower abdominal bracing.
QUADRUPED WITH ALTERNATE ARM/LEG RAISES (Picture
(More dynamic exercise of the trunk)
Position yourself on all fours. Bracing the abdominal
wall as described above. While maintaining a neutral curve of the lumbar spine,
raise the right arm and the left leg (opposite upper and lower limbs) into a
line with the trunk, while preventing any rocking of the pelvis or spine. You
may use an object, such as a foam roller or a rolled up towel, placed along the
spine, for added tactile feedback. The leg should be raised only to the height
at which you can control any excessive motion of the lumbopelvic region. Hold
for 3 to 5 seconds and lower to position before repeating the left arm with the
right leg to constitute as 1 repetition.
If raising 2 limbs at a time is difficult, you
may start off with raising 1 limb at a time.
Progression: Go onto your
toes – the lesser area in contact with the floor provides a more challenging
way to balance.
PRONE PLANK (Picture 3)
(Static core stability exercise)
Go on all fours, with forearms resting on the
mat, elbows bent at 90 degrees, and the toes resting on the mat. Maintain the
spine in a neutral position, squeeze the gluteal muscles, and keep the head
level with the floor. Breath normally
throughout the exercise, while maintaining the abdominal brace. You can start
off holding the position for 20 seconds, working up to 60 to 90 seconds for two
to three repetitions. No compensatory motion, such as increased lower back arch
or buttocks sagging, should be seen.
An easier option is to have knees on the floor
for support. (Picture 3a)
Progression: Leg lifts can be added for more difficulty: one
leg is lifted off the mat, held for 5 to 10 seconds, and then repeated on the
SIDE PLANK (Picture 4)
(Static core-stability exercise)
Lie on your right side with the right arm
extended in a straight line up from the shoulder, with the forearm resting on
the mat. Raise the pelvis from the floor and hold it in a straight-line
"plank" position. The hips should not be allowed to sag toward the
floor. Hold the position for 20 seconds, working up to one minute holds for two
to three repetitions. Repeat on your left side.
Progression: The top foot can be
raised to increasingly challenge the core and gluteal musculature.
Michael Fredericson & Tammara Moore