Strong Core, Strong Runner

If you were to join me on Tuesday nights’ track workouts, the voice you constantly hear through the loudspeaker is the San Diego Track Club’s coach, Coach Paul Greer.  He constantly reminds us to focus on our form, check our heart rates to ensure they are within a certain percentile range and to tell the person next to us “You make a difference in my life!”  He is the epitome of a motivational coach, someone who inspires you to achieve your best.  At the end of our workout, we go through a series of static stretches then finish off with a few sets of core exercises as he points out the importance of a strong core – “Strong Core, Strong Runner”, he would say.

As you may or may not know, I recently finished another strength streak challenge in February with Allison of InvertedSneakers.  Allison is training for the Boston Marathon with a goal time of 3:05.  Her laborious workouts are incomparable to what mine has been in the past month and she definitely killed the challenge without missing a day.  I get exhausted reading about her weekly training.  To my dismay, I missed a few days since I couldn’t seem to muster up the energy to do even 15 minutes of strength after a long or hard run (it probably was more mental than physical). Most of my workouts focused on strengthening my core.

When I say “Core”, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?  Do you picture the aesthetic 6-pack abs?  Or do you think about the functional aspect? That the core is where movement originates, its function of stabilizing our lumbar spine affects the way the rest of our body can efficiently move.  When we run, the muscles surrounding our torso act as stabilizers to control the trunk’s position and motion over the pelvis.  Strong core muscles allow our body to maintain an upright posture even while fatigued during the final miles of a race.  A strong core prevents movement compensations that translate to an energy loss therefore improving our running economy.

In general, the core is comprised of roughly 30 muscles in the lumbo-pelvic region, the abdominals, hips and low back.  I want to focus on the primary muscles responsible for stability of the lumbar spine, the middle layer of core muscles:

Core Stability muscles

Source: ACE Personal Trainer Manual

  • Core stability muscles2

    Source: ACE Personal Trainer Manual

    Quadratus lumborum – located in the posterior abdominal wall, muscle of the lower back

  • Multifidi – a postural muscle located deep in the spine that provides stability and support to the spinal column to keep it upright.
  • Pelvic floor muscles – kegels anyone? These muscles work in conjunction with the transverse abdominis for a stable spine.
  • Transverse Abdominis – deep abdominal muscle when activated draws the abdomen in as if a corset is being tightened around your waist.

 

 

It’s important to achieve core stability first before proceeding with dynamic, more complex exercises to strengthen the core.  Here are five exercises to try: (Note: exercise instructions are available in the ACE Fit exercise library already linked to the specific exercise)

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1. Supine Hollowing with Lower Extremity Movements – this exercise teaches the neural pathways to properly activate the transverse abdominis and contract the pelvic floor muscles.

 

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2. Bird dog – activating the core (targets multifidus and erector spinae) with minimal load on spine while moving hips and shoulders.  This exercise can be regressed if too difficult by raising arm and/or leg a few inches off the ground.

 

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3. Side plank (modified) -this exercise targets the quadratus lomborum, transverse abdominis, and the obliques.

 

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4. Plank – primarily works the transverse abdominis.  Plenty of variations to execute a plank.  This specific exercise goes through an upward/downward phase.

 

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5. Supine Dead Bug – this exercise starts with a supine hollowing (exercise 1) prior to moving the arms/legs.

 

Disclaimer:  For professional guidance in your exercise program, please find a certified Personal Trainer in your area. It’s important to see a qualified healthcare provider for advice and to address any questions or concerns prior to starting a fitness program. The exercises presented on this post are for suggestion only.  Participate at your own risk and stop if you feel faint or experience shortness of breath.

I am linking up with the DC Trifecta Ladies, Courtney at Eat Pray Run DC, Mar at Mar on the Run, and Cynthia at You Signed up for What for their Friday Five.  This week’s topic is Fitness.