Preparation For Running


Core Strength

On several occasions runners have asked me about core strength as they feel they have a weak core muscles. Sometimes I think this core strength thing is a bit of a buzz word, and it's trendy to blame all our problems on a weak core.

Firstly..what makes people think they have a weak core? it back pain? a fat gut? lack of balance or feeling unco-ordinated (or unco as my kids call me!) or have you been advised by a doctor or chiro or physio...

Runners naturally should have a good stable core, this is because everytime we run we take both feet off the ground for a milli second every milli second. Each time we are airborne, something keeps us upright, and its usually our core that grips and tightens a little. Years of doing this naturally creates a strong sense of balance and core strength. I've never done core strength exercises or pelvic floor exercises (naughty girl), I have a tubby tummy I've given birth four times and I have never had cause to question my core strength, I just assume it's strong from over 20 years of running.

However, if you do have lower back or postural problems, if you suffer from aches and pains maybe you could need to think about your core muscle group.

Here is an easy test to see how your core strength is:

Lie on the floor in the plank position (push up position but on elbows and forearms not hands), back flat like a plank. Have a watch with a second hand under your face on the floor.
Hold this position for 60 seconds
Lift your right arm off floor for 15 seconds-return to floor
Lift your left arm off floor for 15 seconds- return to floor
Lift your right leg off floor for 15 seconds- return to floor
Lift your left leg off floor for 15 seconds-return to floor
Lift your right leg and left arm off  floor for 15 seconds- return both limbs to floor
Lift your left leg and right arm off floor for 15 seconds-return both limbs to floor
Return to plank position for 30 seconds

If you can complete the test it indicates that your core strength is good. If you cannot you may need some exercises to try and improve it. Do this test weekly to see how your core strength improves over time. Below are some ideas on improving core strength.

What you need to understand is that a flat stomach or six pack or 100 crunches a day have very little effect on your core strength and some of those ab exercises can hurt your back. The core is made up of a variety of interconnecting muscles that are designed to stabilise your spine and pelvis and even connect with your shoulders, all this provides a base for all your movements. These muscles run the length of the trunk and the torso, they help to keep us upright and control most movements through the legs and arms and of course provide major stability to the spine

There are a couple of easy ways you can work on your core muscles to strenghthen them. You don't need a flat stomach or a six pack, but a stomach that isn't in proportion to your weight, will add extra stress to your core and may affect your back, so if you are overweight in the midriff you may want to shed some kilos. Another problem could be posture, you core is strongly dependant on good posture.

Here is something you can do whilst running..have a good running posture (check on my posture checks tip). When running a simple way to strengthen your core is to centre your mind around your mid area and try drawing your belly button in towards your spine, imagine the two of them trying to connect, this isn't done by holding your breath it's just a matter of concentrating on drawing your tummy in, it also may require a slight forward tilt of the pelvis, this movement tightens up your glutes and lines up your hips over your legs . This can be hard to do, like all things we start off good and then we quickly forget, so for starters, start running and then draw your tummy in slightly all the while maintaining your normal breathing, then check yourself at every half km mark, if you are not drawing it in (which you probably wont be ) at that mark then draw it in again and keep a check on it at every half km point that you run, hopefully you will improve each time until you are doing it naturally the whole way. Another way some people test that they are doing this movement is to tie a light belt around your waist at the line of your belly button (under your running top). Tighten the belt so it should feel lose when you have drawn your belly in, if you feel your belly touching the belt whilst running then you know you need to draw it in again, this is just a simple reminder that you have lost the movement.

Another way to work on your core is all the new balance equipment that you can purchase or classes you can attend. The idea is that you perform your exercises on an unstable surface, therefore your core needs to tighten to keep you upright, so whilst you are moving your legs and arms and you are unstable, something is stopping you from falling and it's your core muscles. A lot of these exercises are usually done with only one leg touching the ground at any given time. Fit balls, the balance discs and wobble boards are all designed to add movement to your exercise so you need to balance as well as perform the exercise. A simple way to recruit the muscles of your core is to balance on one leg whilst exercising, one of the best ones I've seen that was effective and fun for footballers was to balance on the bosu ball whilst someone throws a medicine ball to you, it is hard to catch something when you are on an unsteady surface. When you improve, you try to catch it with one leg off the ball and one on, it really does work at correcting balance and strenghtening the core muscle group.

Also Yoga and Pilates base most of their exercises and stretches around core strength so they are also very good to attend.




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