One of the key ingredients to being a good athlete in any sport is to have a strong core. You often hear people talk about the importance of working your “CORE”. You can visit any gym and find a CORE class. Fitness magazines and books are dedicated to educating athletes and general fitness folks about the need to develop it. But what does that mean? Does it mean doing 200 crunches two to three times a week? Does it mean you have to spend excessive time in a gym doing a series of weighted squats, lunges, pushups and planks till you can’t sit down or lift your arms?
The answer is no. To be clear, CORE work involves focused training of muscles in the abdominal, pelvis and back. These muscles include: transverse abdominus, the internal and external obliques, the quadratus lumborum, diaphragm, errector spinae and multifidus lumbar.
Running is considered a high impact sport that is repetitive and requires you to engage all the muscles mentioned in order to perform at your best. Whether you are running a tough mountain course or paved road, a strong core is key!
The first full season I ran ultramarathons I recall feeling weak in my upper back and biceps. It was the Rucky Chucky 50k in Foresthill, CA and by the time I hit the turnaround at the Rucky Chucky River I could barely hold myself up. I struggled to stay upright and recall crossing the finish line hunched over, back muscles spasming, hips were tight, and I felt like I had added years to my life. My arms were so tired from my attempt to carry a single bottle the entire race.
As a fitness professional I knew the importance of doing strength work but just didn’t fold it into my training plan on a consistent basis. Years later I can say that developing a core circuit that works for me has made all the difference in how I feel during and at the end of my events. Just looking at pictures from races I have completed from 100k to 100 miles, speaks volumes. As you move through your season consider your CORE.
So, what strength exercises would best exercise your core and how often should you do them? Well it always comes down to the amount of time you have to train. At a minimum you should allow yourself three days a week to focus on these areas during offseason. Once the season hits you can reduce that number to one or two times a week. You don’t need heavy weights. In fact light dumb bells of 5, 8 or 10 pounds, a 4-8 pound medicine ball, or even a 12 pound body bar can all be effective tools to train your core. Come up with your own circuit that consists of two to three sets of 12-15 reps.
Consider breaking down muscle groups as follows:
- Chest/ Triceps
- Back/ Biceps
You can work your abs every day and may want to consider: planks, stabilty ball crunches, roman chair knee lifts, or pilates mat work.
The key to effective core training is to pay attention to form. The weight doesn’t matter as much as function. I know many athletes that are more concerned about how much weight they are lifting rather than the ability to perform the exercise correctly. Your best results will happen when you are able to isolate the areas you are training. Another point is to mix up the methods of training frequently by including balance and agility work.
All this will benefit you come race day. Remember to finish strong you have to BE STRONG!