Core strength conditioning boosts running fitness
By Clayton Cross
Photography by Todd Duncan
I often see clients who can no longer run due to back and low body injuries. I also see people whose running economy is being diminished due to a lack of core stability and strength. It’s easy to understand why. A runner’s body is subject to repetitive forces thousands of times throughout a run — up to four times their body weight with each stride.
The core is a dynamic system of muscles surrounding the torso. If you imagine your torso as a barrel, the core muscles would be walls, lid and bottom. The muscles of the hip and pelvis are often not included in the core discussion, but are equally important as they help stabilize the hips, pelvis and spine. These muscles work in concert with each other in a system of slings that criss-cross in diagonal patterns from side to side, up and down and front to stabilize and move the body. Core strengthening to improve running efficiency and reduce the chance of injury needs to incorporate and challenge these sling systems.
This is functional training that mimics movements that are upright and ground-based and force the core to react to stabilize the body. Runners need to be challenged in split-stance and single-leg positions as well to force the core to stabilize the body on an unstable platform. When the core is weak, the body compensates and relies on other muscles to generate stability and movement. These muscles are not meant to do such actions and the resulting compensation often leads to overuse injuries.
I have four exercises that strengthen the core system by challenging components of the sling system. These exercises help co-ordinate muscle activity with functional movement patterns. Training muscles in isolation will change individual muscles, but will not change movement patterns. Training movement patterns will change patterns as well as muscles. Warm up thoroughly and perform the following.
1.Half Kneeling Cable Chop
• 3 sets, 6 to 12 reps each, or until technique breakdown.
• Kneel in a lunge position with right knee up and weight stack on the right side of body. Pad under left knee for comfort.
• Stay tall, shoulders back and down, eyes ahead and core tight. Maintain a neutral pelvic tilt and lumbar spine. Left hip fully extended, glutes contracted.
• Hold the rope with the right arm above the shoulder at a 45-degree angle, palms down.
• Maintain posture, keep core tight. Pull the rope down from high to low across the body in a diagonal motion to the opposite thigh.
• Return to the start position and repeat.
2. Stability Ball Hip Bridges
This is an exercise you may have seen before but its effectiveness for glute and core strengthening cannot be expressed enough.
• 3 sets, 20 to 30 reps.
• Lay on a stability ball with head, shoulders and upper back supported and knees bent 90 degrees. Toes pointing straight ahead.
• Keeping core tight and avoiding low back arch, drop the hips down six inches and contract glutes to raise the hips back up to the start position.
• Hips flush with torso at the end of the movement. Hold for two seconds before repeating the movement.
3. Stability Ball Hip Hikes
• 2 to 4 sets, 15 to 30 repetitions each side.
• Place a stability ball between right hip and the wall with enough force so ball doesn’t slip out.
• Place weight on the left leg and lift right foot off the ground.
• Keeping core tight and left leg slightly bent, let the right hip against the ball drop 1 to 2 inches. Contract the abductors (hip muscles) on the left side to raise the hips and pelvis back to a level position and hold for a two count before repeating the movement.
4. Elbow to Knee Rolling
Requires proper sequencing between core and extremities.
• 3 sets x 6 to 10 each side.
• Lie on back, hands overhead and feet shoulder-width apart. In a diagonal pattern, bring your right elbow to the left knee so they meet over the abdominal area.
• Fully extend right leg with toes pointing up. Left arm straight out overhead.
• Roll toward left (the side with the arm up) by engaging core, turning head to the left and contracting the glutes of the extended leg. Once on your side, turn the head to the right, keep the core and glutes tight and roll back to the starting position.
• The elbow and knee must stay in contact throughout the whole movement. You may place a yoga block, folded pillow or slightly deflated volleyball between the knee and elbow to make the exercise easier.
• Change sides after prescribed amount of reps.
Clayton Cross is a certified athletic therapist and strength and conditioning specialist at Level 10 Fitness in Vancouver.