Core Essentials

Most athletes would love to have a ripped, washboard six-pack stomach, because it looks great, but strengthening your core provides many benefits when it comes to running. – BY SEAN FALCONER

As a runner, having a stronger core – chest, back, abs and obliques – is much more than just about looking good. For starters, it improves your running posture, balance and speed, and sets a solid foundation for strength in the rest of the body. The main benefit, however, is the improvement in stabilisation provided by your torso, as these core muscles reduce ‘speed wobble’ when you start swinging your arms and legs. The core also allows the pelvis, hips and lower back to work together smoothly, and using less energy.

Core strength is especially important for long distance runners, because towards the end of a long run your form can begin to deteriorate as you tire. This will not only slow you down, but can also lead to injury. The good news is that building core strength can be done with simple body-weight moves, and every runner should do a few sets of these before a run, or in your weekly training programme.

  1. Planks:
    These will strengthen your abs, muscles along the spine, chest, shoulders, quads and hamstrings. Simple to do: Raise your straight off the floor by putting your weight on your forearms (arms bent at 90 degrees) and feet, and hold.
  2. Hollow Rocks:
    This one targets the abs: Lie on your back, arms and legs fully extended, then lift your arms and legs off the ground and curve your back so that your whole body makes a bow shape. Then begin rocking back and forth. You may struggle to rock at first, due to the ‘flat spot’ at your lower back, but if you engage your lower abs to round out the lumbar arch (that flat spot), you should get it.
  3. Superman:
    This is effectively the opposite of the Hollow Rock and engages the back muscles. Lie face-down on the floor, arms and legs fully extended, then engage the muscles in your core and back to lift your arms, legs and head off the floor, and hold. As you get stronger, so you’ll be able to lift higher and hold for longer.
  4. Windshield wipers:
    This exercise targets the obliques, an extremely important muscle group for running stability. Lie on your back and extend your legs upwards, making an L-shape with your body. Then, keeping your back on the floor, lower your legs to the right, back up to the middle, then down to the left, like a windshield wiper motion.

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