This is the second in a series of posts about running and injury prevention. The first was about dynamic stretches to do before you run for injury prevention and today’s post is about core exercises for runners.
Having “core strength” and “building a strong core” are phrases that you commonly hear in the fitness industry, but I want to talk about exactly what the core is and why having a strong core is important for runners.
WHAT IS THE CORE?
When many people think of core training, the first thing that comes to mind is “six-pack abs” so they focus primarily on training the rectus abdominis, which are the abs you see when you look in the mirror. Your core is composed of many muscles in the abdomen, hips, back, butt and legs. It’s necessary to work each muscle group to build a strong core.
WHY IS A STRONG CORE IMPORTANT FOR RUNNERS?
I like to describe the core as the trunk of your tree. You want a solid and strong trunk to support all your limbs. If you have a strong core, you are less likely to sustain running injuries because the support from the trunk is helping the limbs like the feet, ankles, calves, shins, knees, hamstrings and quads.
Two areas in the core where runners (and most people) tend to lack strength are the glutes and the hip flexors. This is largely due to the amount of sitting that most of us do on a regular basis! When your glutes aren’t firing correctly and your hip flexors are weak, this can lead to injuries or just prevent you from achieving your optimal running performance.
If you are struggling with a running injury, or have a feeling that some sort of imbalance or weakness could lead to an injury, I encourage you to seek help now! Don’t wait until it becomes a long-term nagging thing. I am going to keep reminding you that if something is inflamed, you need to REST. This is your body saying stop, listen and take care of me.
In my early days as a runner, I tended to “run through the pain” and when something got bad enough, I’d just give up on whatever goal or race I had set for myself. This led to a ton of frustration and heartbreak. These days, I am extra-cautious about seeking out help at the first sign that something seems to be inflamed and not calming down, even after my normal rest and rehab activities. Seeking help early has helped things like foot pain and calf strain not turn into sidelining injuries.
5 GREAT CORE EXERCISES FOR RUNNERS
If you want to work on your core strength so that you help prevent running injuries, I have five of my favorite core exercises for runners to share with you today! This short core workout will target your abdominal muscles, your back muscles, your hip flexors and your glutes! Incorporate this workout into your routine a few times a week and you’ll be on your way to a much stronger core!
1. SUPER MAN
Why: Strengthens low back and glutes.
How to do it: Lie face-down on the floor with body straight and arms outstretched overhead, pinkies on the floor and thumbs facing to the ceiling. Feet are hips distance apart. Lift up the arms and the legs at the same time, hugging your biceps in by your ears and keeping your neck long and neutral. Gaze should be down towards the floor. As you lift up, engage the back muscles and the glutes, but be careful not to clench the glutes. Think thumbs and heels to the ceiling. Slow and controlled, lower back to starting position with forehead on the floor.
2. IN AND OUTS
Why: Strengthens lower abdominals and hip flexors.
How to do it: Start in a seated position on the floor. Place the hands under the shoulders with palms on the floor and fingertips facing towards the feet. Start with the knees into the chest and heels floated off the floor. Slowly extend the legs out straight as you lean back with the upper body. You should be in a hollow body type position at the bottom of the exercise. Slowly draw knees back into chest and sit up with the upper body. If you want to make it harder, float the hands and don’t ground the palms.
WHY: Helps to get your glutes firing and strengthens the glute medius.
HOW TO DO IT: Lie on your side with hips and knees stacked and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. Slowly lift the top knee off the bottom knee while keeping the feet together to touch. Really squeeze at the top of the movement. Slowly lower back down. Be very careful not to use momentum or force here and really focus on initiating the movement from the glute. The miniband is optional but a great tool for taking your clamshells to the next level.
4. SINGLE LEG BRIDGE
WHY: Strengthens the glutes
HOW TO DO IT: Start on your back with one knee bent and one leg lifted straight up. Walk the heel of the bent knee in close to the glute. Flex the lifted foot and reach through the heel, pulling toes back towards your face. Your hands are by your sides with palms down and pressing into the floor. To initiate the movement, press down into the grounded heel and lift through the extended heel. Big squeeze of the glute at the top range of the movement and then lower slowly. The miniband is optional.
5. PLANK WALKS
WHY: Strengthens abdominals, back and hips.
HOW TO DO IT: Start in a plank position with straight line from head to heels and feet hips distance apart. Step the right foot out to the right and then back to center. Step the other foot out to the left and back to center. Keep alternating sides. While doing this, be sure to keep your hips square and your gaze between your thumbs. Also, be careful not to let the butt lift out of alignment with the rest of the body. The miniband is optional.
5 GREAT CORE EXERCISES FOR RUNNERS PINNABLE
Now, it’s your turn to go work your core! Stay tuned for the next post in my series…which will be all about my favorite recovery tips and yoga poses for runners!
When you work your core, do you work more than just your abs?
Favorite core exercise? I love forearm planks, donkey kicks and straight leg bicycles. I’m also a big fan of functional core work like squats and deadlifts!
Runners…do you carve out time for core training work?