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Why Your Core Actually Matters When It Comes To Running

A strong core is at the foundation of every great runner's performance. Here is why it is important and how to get started on strengthening it.

While the need for incorporating speedwork and recovery into a running plan may speak for itself, when it comes to understanding the importance of including core work, the answer may be a little less obvious. But that’s certainly not because it is any less important.

Known as the power house of the body, the core impacts every movement and activity of the human structure. In fact, your ability to stand up, sit back, bend over and get out of bed are all driven by your core.

You can think of it as the power house of muscle that holds you up and lets everything operate around you. From the movement and extension of each limb, to the forward propulsion of your body, a strong core is at the foundation, and it grounds together your pelvis, abdominals, hips and back so they can work in sync. Especially when it comes to running.

Within the motions of running, when you plant your foot down in front of you and step out into your stride, your body receives a load that is several times your body weight. This energy is transferred through your entire body, allowing you to move forward, pushing off and landing for your next stride.

As that power and energy works its way through your body, reaching your core, a strong core is able to transfer the energy, due to its enhanced stability, instead of losing energy. Energy lost is running slowed down, while a strong core that maintains the stability of your torso and your body is one that can more effectively bring the energy in and use it.

When the core is stable and keeps everything aligned, the energy can be used to then generate increased running energy helping you maintain a stronger speed, proper posture and effective load dispersal that works to prevent injury. It is important to remember that the core is made up of far more than just your abdominal muscles and includes (to name a few): the back, hip flexors and pelvis. The abdominal muscles component is actually a selection of several sets of muscles, whereby there are deep running muscles which we can’t see, and then the rectus abdominus on the top, which we typically think of as creating the “six-pack.”

Strengthening your core, however, and having it be strong enough to stabilize your body and transfer energy, has nothing to do with a six pack or aesthetics, and instead everything to do with power and transfer of load. When this load transfer is effective and properly dispersed, not only does your running benefit, but your injury risk decreases, your posture improves and your performance is enhanced as a result.

But in order to get those results, you have to work your deeper abdominal muscles. Simply doing 100 crunches and bicycle twists as fast as you can isn’t going to work. Instead, focus on deep core work using these tips and exercise examples.

  • Start with the mind, and the conscious and consistent activation of your core; much of the time the core isn’t working to capacity because our brain isn’t telling it to do any work.
  • Be aware of the role of your breath: exhale during the movement to engage your core and inhale to relax your core.
  • Remember that you need to also contract your lower abs–pelvic floor–when you exhale.
  • Remember that slow, controlled movements are the best way to build strong core muscles.

3 Exercises to Try at Home

Bird Dog

Come to all fours, creating a neutral spine and activating your core underneath. While maintaining activation and spinal position, extend your right arm out in front of you and your left leg behind. Hold this position and then practice bringing knee to elbow underneath your body, whilst core stays engaged. Do 8-10 reps and then repeat on the other side.

Planking Leg Lift

Come to high plank with palms on the floor. Core is engaged, and spine is neutral, making sure you aren’t letting your butt stick up in the air. Lift your right leg until it is parallel to the floor and then lower back down to a tap your toe on the floor, before lifting again and repeating. Do 8-10 reps per side, bringing your opposite knee to the floor for support if necessary.

Upper Abdominal Lift

Lying flat on the floor, with feet planted and knees bent, place your hands behind your head, keeping elbows wide. Press your lower back into the floor while pulling the navel towards the spine and then simultaneously use the upper abdominals to lift your shoulder blades off the floor. Repeat 15-20 times.

Doing these exercises at home is a great way to start to improve core function and activation. In addition, try out a Pilates class and start to try to be more mindful of when your core is or isn’t switching on. In a few months, you’ll be impressed with the benefits it can offer to your running.