The Crunchless Core Workout For Runners

Working the core muscles leads to better and faster running. Photo: www.shutterstock.com


Try these exercises to develop a stronger core. It will help your running.

Runners require more than just running-type training to accelerate to the front of the pack. A well balanced resistance training program will not only create a foundation of strength and the ability to produce more power, but it will also improve overall athleticism and provide the much needed variety in training.

Full body, core and hip-focused exercises are a must if you want to stay injury-free and run to your best potential.

The goals of a runner’s resistance training program are (in no particular order):

1. To improve overall strength, power, muscular endurance and elastic and reactive properties of muscles and tendons to enhance running economy, especially when fatigued

2. To increase full body durability to withstand the repetitive nature of running and reduce injury potential

3. To correct for strength or mobility/flexibility imbalances, if present, all while improving neuromuscular efficiency — inter- and intra-muscular coordination

If you need more convincing to hit the weights, here are a few scientific studies to push you over the fence.

A prospective study in Clinical Biomechanics (Noehren et al., 2007) looked at lower extremity kinematics and kinetics in groups of novice female runners who either did or did not develop iliotibial band syndrome. Based on their findings, the authors suggest that “interventions should be aimed at improving the strength and neuromuscular control of the hip” as those who developed iliotibial band syndrome showed compromised hip and knee kinematics when running. However, a systematic review in the Sports Medicine journal (van der Worp et al., 2012) point out that other factors may be at play, such as muscle compliance, footwear type and running surface. Regardless, the consensus states that hip strengthening should play an important role in ITBS prevention and rehabilitation.

Research in the Journal of Clinical Biomechanics (Snyder et al., 2007) found closed chain (standing) hip strengthening exercises not only increase hip strength in novice female runners, but also alter lower extremity joint loading when running. The authors postulate these results may reduce injury risk and improve a runner’s durability. In addition, Fredericson and Moore (2005) report that “weakness or lack of sufficient coordination in core musculature can lead to less efficient movements, compensatory movement patterns, strain, overuse and injury,” thus, further driving the importance of strength training sessions in a runner’s weekly routine.

Most times though, just reading the research abstract doesn’t paint you the complete picture regarding the scientific findings. For example, a recent study from the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport (Koblbauer et al., 2013) examined running kinematics during fatigued running in novice runners and found that “core endurance measures displayed unexpected relations with running kinematics,” meaning that those who displayed better core endurance performance exhibited larger trunk kinematic changes when running in a fatigued state. However, the authors point out that the static core endurance tests may not completely reflect the dynamic core stability function of the trunk while running and further state that further research is needed to determine the relationship between isometric core endurance measures and running kinematics.

A recent study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (Gottschall et al., 2013) examined the difference between isolation-type core exercises, like crunches, and compared them to integration-type core exercises that incorporated distal trunk muscle activation, like the pushup plank with alternating knees (listed below as a recommended exercise). The researchers found greater core muscle activation during the integration-type exercises and concluded “an integrated routine that incorporates the activation of distal trunk musculature would be optimal in terms of maximizing strength, improving endurance, enhancing stability, reducing injury, and maintaining mobility.”

Regardless, the ability to maintain a stable torso and pelvis during running is important to minimize unwanted and inefficient movements. These “extra” movements or compensations will lead to wasted energy and compromised race performances or worse yet, overuse injuries. The goal when running is to run as fast as possible over your particular race distance as efficiently as possible so you can minimize your race times and enhance performance.

Over the next few pages are several exercises you can immediately add into your weekly routine to improve core and pelvic stability while improving overall strength.

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