Core Strength Training – It’s More Than a Six Pack
By Rick Morris
When many athletes think about a strong core they manifest a mental image of lean, toned and ripped six pack abdominal muscles. People seem to have a preoccupation with having a six pack. Just do an internet search on six pack and look at all of the thousands of pages dedicated to the development of a six pack. There’s nothing wrong with having a sexy six pack and looking good.
A proper core strength training program will give you that six pack, but core strength training is about way more than a six pack. In fact, a nice six pack is just a minor fringe benefit of core strength training for distance runners. Core strength training will improve your functional fitness and running performance in a number of ways, including enhanced endurance, increased power, superior running economy and improved injury resistance.
Many runners don’t equate stronger muscles with increased endurance. In fact, any muscle will gain some endurance along with strength. It’s like a stronger rope being able to take more stress before it breaks. That is especially true when speaking of core strength because of the role core muscles play in your running stride. The kinetic chain of all of your lower leg muscles begin in one place – your core. Or more specifically, your pelvis.
Your running stride may begin where your feet meet the ground, but keep in mind that your feet are attached to your lower leg, which is attached to your upper leg, which is attached to your pelvis. If you have a weak link at the origin – your pelvis, the entire kinetic chain can and will break down. On the other hand, a strong core will provide a very strong base to keep your other leg muscles operating at full efficiency.
Just as a strong core improves your endurance, it also increases your power. As a distance runner you already have strong and resilient leg muscles. But, again, just one weak link in the chain will cause you problems. Think in terms of construction of a high rise building. As the building gets higher and higher it places more stress on its foundation. If the foundation is strong, the building is strong. If the foundation is weak, it doesn’t matter how strong the actual building is, it can still fail and fall. Your leg muscles are very similar. It doesn’t matter how strong your leg muscles are, if your foundation – your core- is weak your stride will lack power. So build up that core and increase your running power.
Superior Running Economy
Running economy is all about conserving, not wasting, energy and power. Much of your running economy comes from leg strength, leg resiliency and stride mechanics. But there is another phase of running economy that is often ignored. If your stride has any instability or excessive motion, you are wasting energy. Stride instability is primarily caused by one thing – a weak core. With every stride you take, your core muscles are working at a very high level to stabilize your hips, keeping them level and eliminating excess side to side motion. As your core muscles begin to fatigue they lose the ability to stabilize your hips and you end up with very unstable and inefficient running stride. So, keep your core strong with core strength training and you will enjoy superior running economy.
Improved Injury Resistance
There is really no way to eliminate all running related injuries, but you can do your part to improve your injury resistance. One of the best ways is through core strength training. Getting back to that all important muscle chain, if your core becomes weak, your other muscles must work harder to compensate. That places more stress on those muscles and places them at much greater risk of injury. Keep your core muscles strong and take some stress off your very hard working leg and, to some extent, your upper body muscles. Your body will thank you with fewer and less severe running injuries.