Personal trainers, coaches, boot camp instructors, yoga teachers, physical therapists -- everyone tells runners that they need to work on their core. But even though everyone says that you should do it, it's still important to understand the basics -- what exactly you're focusing on and why.
What is your core?
When I work with runners, I like to define the "core" as going from the middle of the quads through to the bottom of the rib cage. So we do exercises focused on the quads/hamstrings, the hip flexors, postural muscles and abs.
Specifically it's important to focus on muscles that aren't used when running. Since pretty much all of the running you're doing is in a straight line, it's important to incorporate exercises that involve moving laterally.
Fire Hydrants -- on your hands and knees and pretend you're a dog. Enough said. (check out the video below)
Jumping Jacks -- this classic also incorporates a slight plyometric element.
Side Plank w/ Leg Lift -- from the traditional side plank, raise your upper leg as high as possible
Obviously there are dozens of other possible exercises that would work the same muscles. But the main point is to move your core muscles in ways that they aren't while you're running.
Why work on your core?
When you work on core strength, you're really shooting for a very functional strength. You're not trying to build muscles to look good at the beach -- although that can be a nice bonus. You're trying to run faster.
Good core strength doesn't necessarily make you faster on its own (although through better mechanics and a more efficient stride it certainly may), but it allows you to run more volume and at a higher intensity without the same risk of injury.
As I mentioned above, we generally run in a straight line, which limits the muscles that we use. Without supplemental core work, this can result in muscle imbalances that can eventually cause injury. By eliminating these imbalances, you can greatly reduce your chances of getting injured. Staying healthy means uninterrupted training, which ultimately translates to faster racing.
So it may not be news that working on your core is important for runners. But, knowing what muscles to target and what you're trying to accomplish can help you maximize your core routine and ultimately help you train faster and more often.
Do you have a favorite core exercise or routine? Include it in the comments section below!