Updated: Mar 26, 2019
I find that runners often over look training adjuncts like stretching, core training, and strength training. One of the secrets of becoming the best runner that you are capable of being requires that you focus on more than just running.
There is a continuum for strength training that I follow when writing plans and workouts. It always starts with stability work to activate the right muscles in the right order. Then, the workouts can progress to strength and power. If you skip the stability work, you could be risking injury or ingrain faulty movement patterns.
Today, we are going to focus on the nuts and bolts of core stability with four of my favorite exercises. The exercises selected will work the abs, back muscles, glutes and provide a balance challenge. The key to all of these exercises is setting the core before you start each exercise.
To set your core, you want to engage your deep abdominal muscle (the TVA or transverse abdominis). Most people "engage" this muscle by trying to draw their navel in towards their spine. Have you tried this? I bet you squeeze your muscles so hard that you can't do this while breathing. Instead, try this - pull in your lower abdominals as if you were trying to get space between your belly and your belt line. You should be able to maintain this tension while breathing. Next, squeeze your glutes to set your hips straight.
How should you incorporate this in to your routine? You can add these exercises in to your rotation 2 times a week as a warm-up or dedicate a workout or two each week to working on your core. Do you have 15 minutes to spare? You should be able to get through this whole set in less than 15 minutes.
A note about workout tempo. Each of these moves should be performed slowly and with control. Count 2-3 seconds for each direction of the motion (for example, two counts to raise up in the bridge, hold for a count at the top, and two counts to lower).
I personally like to do the first three in a circuit and finish with the balance exercise.
- Why does it work? This move fires up your deep core muscles, requires glute activation, and works your extremities at the same time. This move also helps you to hone in on your breathing techniques. Keeping a steady breath in and out of your nose will help you maintain this hold.
- How should you do it? Start face down on a mat. With elbows under shoulders push up to balance on your forearms and toes maintaining a straight line from your shoulders to your hips to your heels. Keep your gaze down to maintain good alignment in your neck This is an active pose meaning that all of your muscles should be tensed in an isometric hold. Engage your core, squeeze your glutes & breathe.
- Sets & Reps: Build up to 3 sets of 30-45 second holds
- Make it more challenging: Add in alternating shoulder taps in high plank, alternating glute lifts in low plank, plank saw, or plank on a stability ball
- Why does it work? This move requires you to keep your core stable while your extremities are moving. It helps you to practice activation of your deep core muscles for hip stabilization that we want during the running cycle.
- How should you do it? Start laying on your back. Extend your arms straight with finger tips reaching toward the ceiling and legs in table top position. Engage your core and squeeze your glutes (you should feel your back flat against the floor). Alternate lowering your left arm and right leg towards the ground. Only go down as far as you can maintain tension in your abs and contact between your back and the ground. Come back to start and switch sides.
- Sets & Reps: Build up to 3 sets of 8 reps per side
- Why does it work? This move focuses on activation of your glutes, hamstrings and TVA during hip extension. If you spend a lot of time sitting during the day, our glutes forget how to fire. This will help you to learn what glute activation feels like
- How should you do it? Lay on your back with your knees bent, engage your core and squeeze your glutes. Slowly raise your hips straight up and squeeze at the top. You should be in a straight line from shoulders to hips to knees. Slowly lower to start position
- Sets & Reps: 3 sets of 15-20 reps.
- Make it more challenging: Marching bridge, single leg bridge, bridge with feet on stability ball
Balance and Reach
- Why does it work? Running is a single leg sport that requires balance and strength. This exercise will challenge your balance and muscle proprioception.
- How should you do it? Start with feet hip distance apart and raise one foot to hover. Keep your core engaged and squeeze your glutes to set your hips level. With a small bend in your standing leg reach forward and come back to center. Reach out to the side and come back to center. Reach behind you and come back to the center. Repeat for 6 reps on that side and switch to the other side.
- Sets & Reps: 3 sets of 6 reps on each side
- Make it more challenging: Use an unstable surface such as a foam balance pad, dyna disc, or bosu ball ( bubble up).