There would be far less runners’ injuries if runners had a stronger core. Does this mean you need to jump on a Pilates Reformer, use the TRX or do 100 crunches per day? No!
The reason the core has become so weak is because our lives are very sedentary. Sitting for 60 hours per week at the desk and then trying to run for half an hour isn’t exactly going to balance things up.
Running with a weak core, exposes you to poor running postures and hence injuries. See the examples below:
Picture A Picture B
The runner in Picture A has a poor running technique due to areas of weakness. As he is not strong in the right places, particularly the core, he drops his hip and pelvis out to the side, which makes his knee drop in towards the midline and he lands heavily on his foot. This will expose him to lower back, hip, knee or ankle injuries while running.
The runner in Picture B, the one and only Usain Bolt, has the most superior ability to activate his deep core while running which gives him the ultimate stability and alignment that makes him the world’s fastest runner. Check out the position of his spine in the picture above.
Common core exercises that won’t improve your running posture:
1. The Pilates reformer
During WW1, Joseph Pilates helped wounded soldiers lying in their hospital beds who were looking very weak. So, he rigged springs to hospital beds, so they could exercise against resistance to improve their strength. This was how the reformer was invented. It is fantastic for rehabilitation. However, it is not functional enough for runners. Instead, runners need to train their inner core in running based positions.
Above: Pictures of Joseph Pilates on the reformer. Notice the resemblance the reformer has to the hospital bed.
How about crunches then? Being able to do 100 crunches doesn’t mean you have a strong core that will improve your running technique. It just means you have a six pack.
Where does that leave you then?
The layers of your trunk muscles are like an onion. There are deeper layers and there are outer layers. Each layer has a different function.
The outer layers:
- Are what people commonly exercise when they do sit ups and weights at the gym.
- Are fast twitch fibers which means they will switch on and off to give you power.
The inner layers:
- Are what runners commonly don’t exercise
- Are slow twitch fibers which means they should be switched on all day to hold you up.
- Are the muscles that give you a strong inner framework. They are stability muscles that give you good alignment and posture.
Picture far left: Your core muscles are like the layers of an onion, with outer layers and inner layers.
Picture second from left: Rectus Abdominis – the 6 pack muscle that sits in the outer core.
Picture second from right: Transverse Abdominis – the inner core muscle that gives you the stability and alignment you need to activate to improve your running.
Picture far right: A corset resembles where the inner core muscle runs. The inner core literally sucks your gut content in and stabilises your spine, like a corset.
The benefits of having a strong inner core are that you will have a much more stable framework to move from. And this is how injuries will be prevented.
To activate the inner core, think of a low deep triangle that runs from hip to hip and down to your pubic bone. Try to shorten the triangle by 1cm. As you do, keep your outer core muscles relaxed. Get this checked with an expert Sports Physio!
The big secret to improve your running posture
Once you know how to activate your inner core, maintaining its strength is best done in running based positions. If you want to learn a language it’s best to go to that country to immerse yourself in it. That’s functional. If you want to learn how to switch your deep core muscles on while you are running, then do so in running based positions. That is functional. That is the key.
Squats are one of the most functional exercises a runner needs to get right with the utmost control of the spine. You don’t even need to use much weight. If your spine is in good alignment then you are more than likely activating the deep core muscles that give you your stability. Keep your spine in neutral alignment as you squat, and make sure you don’t over extend or over flex the spine. (Best to get your technique checked with a Sports Physio).
The Core 101 wrap up
It’s not about doing loads of ab crunches or spending years on a reformer. To be a strong runner, strengthen up in running based positions! Get yourself to a Physiotonic class today to learn from the experts.