SKINS Head Running Coach talks about the importance of core strength.
Whatever sport you do in, whether it be running, football, cricket, tennis or even rollerblading, your core strength is always important. In a running context, your core strength dictates so much about your running gait. Twisting and turning movements in your core can cause similar movement in your hips. If your hips are going left to right rather than forwards, you're wasting energy by not going in a straight line.
If we refer to the car analogy, having a weak core would be the equivalent of driving along the motorway and moving your steering wheel left and right the whole way. Core strength helps you maintain good posture, which will help you with your breathing mechanics. If your shoulders hunch over and you lean forward, you reduce the capacity of your lungs, which has a knock-on effect of less blood to the muscles and decreased performance.
A runner's core is their base. If you have a good base to work off generally, you are onto a good start. If you have a weaker core, your body can start to move in inefficient ways and put your muscles under heightened strain when you're fatigued. This can lead to slowing you down or even causing you injuries thanks to the muscles working in a way that they shouldn't.
Training your core doesn't have to mean doing 100 sit-ups every night before you go to bed. There are lots of ways that you can train your core whilst also getting extra training benefit. Swimming is a perfect way of training your core strength whilst also getting some additional aerobic training. You can focus on maintaining a strong core by keeping a straight line up the black line on the bottom of the pool. Just make sure you don't swim into anyone whilst doing this!
Yoga and Pilates are also excellent ways of building your core strength training into your routine while adding extra strengthening and flexibility exercises. In more precedented times, you can also do these under the supervision of an instructor in a group setting which will help with your motivation and technique.
When looking at specific exercises, you must have good technique when trying to strengthen your core. This will ensure you isolate your abdominal muscles and not get the movement or control from other areas of your trunk. There are plenty of ways to strengthen your core in the gym, from using medicine balls to cables and bands, leg lifts, or even everybody's favourite: the plank. It's always good to use various exercises to activate all the different parts of your core. You are better going for little and often with these exercises and maintaining good form when doing so rather than overworking yourself and poor technique creeping in. Again, if you think you need help with your form or learning what to do, then consult an S and C coach, a physio you have worked with before or a PT with experience and knowledge of running.
Start with your back on the floor; keep that lower back tight into the floor for the whole exercise. Raise both arms up (straight) and bring your knees up to 90 degrees. Straighten your right leg horizontally and your left arm, hold for 1 second at the furthest point, then bring them back to the original position. Keep this movement controlled.
In 'N' Outs
Sitting on the floor, bring your knees into your chest, then straighten your legs horizontally and your body simultaneously. Keep your back straight and stretch your arms out as far as possible before coming back to the starting position. Stay controlled.
Keeping your lower back pressed into the floor at all times and your hand by your side. Lift up one leg or both legs together, aiming to reach 90 degrees (if you are flexible enough), then lower back down to the floor. Keep this movement slow and controlled, and feel your abs activate as you move up and down.
Start by tucking your knees into your chest, then slowly extend your legs forward whilst raising your hands above and behind your head. Ensure that you are always keeping your lower back flat against the ground and holding a crescent moon shape position.
Lay down on your back and raise your legs to 90 degrees. Make sure you keep your back tight to the floor before raising your arms. When your arms are raised, try and get your hands as close to your toes as you can. Control this movement up and down and feel it work your core.
We would typically recommend splitting these into two sets and completing a manageable amount of reps as you feel yourself getting stronger.