Running is nothing else but a pair of legs, the heart and the lungs. Or is it?
Although having a good pair of legs, healthy heart and strong lungs is necessary for good running, there is one (at least) more part we need to address to make us good runners.
Whether you want to be a faster, better, healthier, or all of the above, runner, you need to have a strong core. In recent history, there have been many articles, books, videos and debates and opinions on how to train your core, and what is the best way to do so. Some of the methods are more appropriate than others, depending on what your specific goal is, but, one sure thing is that there are a lot of runners out there who train their core and are, in my opinion, doing it incorrectly.
In order to understand how to train the core we first need to understand what the core is. To most people having a strong core does not go beyond anything else but having a visible six pack; but, that could not be further from the truth.
The six pack, or the Rectus Abdominis, is just one part of the entire structure. Rectus Abdominis, along with the Transverse Abdominis (known as TA) is what creates the front of the core.
On the top of your core is your Diaphragm, a very important muscle when it comes to breathing, which we would agree is very important when it comes to running.
On the bottom of your core is your Pelvic Floor which is made out of four small, yet important muscles, whose names I won’t bother you with because I have not met a runner who can pronounce them 🙂
The back side of your core consists of your Multifidus and Spinal Erectors (another group of muscles with hard to pronounce names).
And last, but not least, there are Internal and External Obliques, along with this square looking muscle Quadratus Lomborum (also known as QL)
So that is the anatomy of your core at least for the purpose of this article. Many others, including yours truly, would include a bunch of other muscles, but that is a whole different argument.
Knowing what your core is, is just a one piece of the entire puzzle on how to train your core. In order to train the core effectively we need to know what is the function of these muscles that your core is made out of. And that is a part where many of us make major mistakes.
For the longest time people have been training their core (and arguably every other muscle) based on what your muscles CAN do. Instead we should train our muscles based on what they are DESIGNED to do.
Think of it this way; you could cut bread with your scissors, but a bread knife makes it easier/better. You could also cut paper with your bread knife but, … you get the picture? Just because you CAN does not mean IT IS the best way.
Just because your six pack CAN flex your torso/spine it does not mean it is there to do that. It is there to PREVENT extension of your torso/spine. Just because your obliques CAN rotate your torso/spine, their function is to PREVENT rotation and torso/spine extension. Just because your QL CAN side bend you it does not mean you should grab a dumbbell and start side bending like that guy in the gym who has good looking abs. And on and on we go.
Now I want you to think as a runner, before you answer this question. While running, do you want your midsection/core to flex, extend, rotate and/or side bend?
If you answered YES, then think again, or better, watch a video on good running form, and answer again.
If you answered NO, then why would you want to train your midsection/core by flexing, extending, rotating and side bending? Just because you CAN it does not mean you SHOULD.
While running (and not just running) your core muscles are stabilizing your spine and transferring forces between moving parts (your legs and arms). Now that we know this we can design an appropriate, running specific, core training program.
Enter the “Anti-Core” Training Program.
Don’t let the name fool you. The program consists of exercises designed to PREVENT flexion, extension, rotation, side bending and any combination of these exercises. It will challenge you like nothing else out there and strengthen your core…, well to the core.
Properly executed dead lifts, front squats and other front loaded exercises are also known (in my book) as “Anti- flexion” exercises.
Exercises such as 4 point plank, roll out and push ups are “Anti-extension” exercises. In order to prevent too much rotation while running, we are doing variations of Pallof presses, single arm pulls/pushes using bands and cables which are also known as “Anti-rotation” exercises.
Side planks, and single arm/leg and off center loaded type exercise will strengthen muscles which prevent lateral/side bending. Yes, that would be your QL.
Those are just few examples of exercises you should be doing to strengthen your core in order to be a better, faster and less injured runner.
STOP flexing, extending, rotating, bending and doing combination of any two or three of these movements if running performance is your goal.
And yes… don’t forget, you still need to work on the legs, heart and your lungs too.