Marathon Training Tip : “If your core is weak, nothing else can be strong”


A 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 pulls.


The following 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.



(Recruits deep abdominal muscles and for lumbopelvic control)

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.

Picture 1


(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.

Picture 2


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 opposite side.

Picture 3  




                                                    Picture 3a

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.

Picture 4



Runner’s World -

Michael Fredericson & Tammara Moore -