Good core strength is something that can be easily taken for granted until it is lost. In this month’s article I want to explore what is the “core” and why it is so important to runners and just human beings in general.
Core strength has been on my mind lately. Finally after struggling to find some balance with my core after baby number two I am finally getting my core strength and postural control back. I remember the first time I realized how important core strength is in every day movements. I was not even a physical therapist yet. My junior year in college I was watching a group of guys play baseball. One of my friends was dating a guy, Wade, who was a tremendous athlete. In any case, he was visiting and one of the teams needed another player. He volunteered. After watching two or three guys swing the bat at the ball, Wade stepped up to the plate. Wade cranked back and swung. You could see he was ready to hit the ball in just the right spot. You could see the unwinding of his spine as he swung and hit the ball out of the park. He did that three more times. His team was really happy he volunteered! I was not there to study the kinesiology of batting mechanics but you could see the stark difference in control Wade had over his body compared to the other guys playing. Wade ended up playing in the NFL for two years before a career ending knee injury.
So what is a “core” anyway? I am sure Wikipedia has an interesting definition but from a physical therapist’s perspective your core is all the muscles that stabilize your spine to create efficient movement of your arms legs and head. Also stronger your core muscles the more power you can generate for movements. Your core is working with simple activities like standing from a chair to very energetic movements like kicking a soccer ball or hitting a tennis ball. Major muscle groups are your abdominals, obliques, spine flexors, spine extensors, spine rotators, and pelvic floor.
So you’re a runner or just someone who just wants to get a little work out in to be fit. Why should you care? Are strong legs not enough to make a good runner? Maybe. But a stronger core can help the muscles your arms and legs move through space with ease, efficiency, and coordination without wasting a lot of time with faulty core movements. The more accessory movements you have the more time is wasted during a run. So having a stronger core could mean a faster 5K time. It definitely means better posture and spine health.
So how do you strengthen these? Here is a list of exercises that can give you the best all round core workout no matter what your purpose for working out. Whether you are wanting to get a fair amount of exercise for every day health, a runner, or a body builder these exercises are great for you core health.
- Chair Squats. Slowly lower yourself to and from a chair with control focusing on keeping your body upright.
- Lifts from Floor to Chest. You must keep your body upright for your core to be activated. Start with a light weight box (5-10 pounds). Squat down over the box keeping your body upright. If you cannot keep your chest and eyes faced forward your core is REALLY WEAK!
- Diagonal Rows (floor to overhead). Start with a theraband or resistance cord at around knee height on the left. Pull the band across your body to the right with both arms. Then slowly lower it back to the starting position. You can do this reverse as well starting in the highest position and pulling down across your body.
- Across Body Rows. Start with the theraband at hip height on your left side. Engage your abs and obliques and pull the band straight across to the right side of your body. Then slowly control the band back to its starting position.
- Bird Dog Exercises. On all fours extend your left arm and your right leg out straight. Make sure to engage your abs before starting this one. This should be a slow exercise and should take a lot of effort to control your body so your hips stay level and do not drop to one side or the other.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. You can do these straight or to the sides to engage abs and obliques. There are tons of different variations of crunch. Pick the one or two that work best for you and work on it.
- Pelvic Tilts (aka reverse crunch). In same starting position as crunch. Push your low back into the floor. Hold for a few seconds. Release slowly.
- Pelvic Tilts with a bridge. Same as above but once you do your tilt then hold the tilt and lift your buns off the floor. Hold for a few seconds. Release slowly.
- (This is for girls and boys!) You can do these in practically any position. Pull you pelvic floor up toward and hold for a few seconds. If you have a hard time figuring out what your pelvic floor is try to slow down or stop urination midstream. If you can do this those are your pelvic floor muscles.
You can also do sport specific training with your core. Runners can focus on keeping their body stable while running. This will make your more aware of your arms and legs as you run.
I hope this article will inspire you to incorporate a core routine into your training a couple of days a week. It will serve you well in running and in life.