Strong and injury free running

Fitness

Running With Us coaches give examples of core exercises which if performed regularly will help develop stability and balance in your running stride and improve your posture to help with your running efficiency.

14/02/2019


Running With Us coaches
Nick Anderson and Tom Craggs

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The bulletproof athlete, strong and injury free - it’s all about your core! 

What is your core anyway?

Think of your core as the chain that holds your body together, essentially your body without arms and legs. Having a strong core doesn’t just mean having a nice 6 pack, core muscles also include your obliques, pelvic muscles, hip muscles, muscles around your lower and middle back, your chest and even your diaphragm – yes that’s right the muscle that helps you breathe – crucial for running! A stronger core will see you running faster times with a reduced risk of injury, but getting a stronger core doesn’t have to mean hours spent in an over-priced sweaty gym.

Unfortunately, most of us have sedentary jobs resulting in weakness in the lower abs, glutes and the deep core muscles such as the transverse abdominus (TVA).

The simple core routine below performed regularly will help develop stability and balance in your running stride and improve your posture to help with your running efficiency. Over the coming weeks and months, we will give you more advanced workouts to try, but the 6 exercises below are a great start point for all runners. Perform all the following exercises 3 times and aim for 2-3 sessions a week.

1. The Finger Crusher

A crucial exercise, this small core engager will reap big rewards.

Breaking it down: lie on a mat in a sit-up position, find the natural arch in your back, place your hands under this arch, engage your lower abs and pelvic floor and pushing your spine down on to your hands, trying to crush your fingers. Aim to keep the pressure applied evenly to your fingers for at least 30 seconds

  • Muscles strengthened: the multifidus – the tiny but crucial muscles that stabilise the spine, the pelvic floor which provides support to all your pelvic organs and the TVA, which stabilises.
  • Stepping it up: add small alternate leg lifts, while keeping the pressure on your hands even.

2. Plank routine: front plank – side plank – side plank

The plank in all its forms is an essential runners conditioning exercise, helping you to keep your posture through each stride, especially when tired.

Breaking it down: start with a front plank - lie on your front and raise your body up on your elbows with your forehead over your hands. Keep a straight line from the neck down through the legs to your ankles; engage all your core muscles by sucking your belly button up to the ceiling. Try to imagine lengthening your body out from the shoulders forwards and heels backwards, as well as lifting through the mid-section. Now move into a side plank. Make a right angle with your supporting arm, roll your body onto this arm keeping your other arm above your head, keep your feet together and your stomach strong. Rise up, lifting your hips making sure you squeeze your glutes, pushing your pelvis through. Repeat on the other side by rolling through to your other elbow. Aim to build up to holding each pose for 45 seconds or more.

  • Muscles strengthened: erector spinae, which helps to straighten your back, your abs, chest and your TVA. In addition to these, the side plank helps to develop your obliques.
  • Stepping it up: make your front plank more challenging by alternately lifting each leg from the floor by 5 or 6 inches whilst trying to keep your core strong and hips level. Progress your side plank by lifting your top leg whilst maintaining your hip position.

3. Bridge

The glutes are your big running propulsion muscles. The bridge helps to engage this crucial engine whilst also developing hip and spine stability.

Breaking it down: from a sit-up position, keep your stomach strong, engage your glutes and push your hips up to keep a straight line from your shoulders, through your hips to your knees. Keep your hips high by squeezing your glute muscles. If you find your hamstrings working more than your glutes, tuck your feet a little further under towards your backside.

  • Muscles strengthened: the bridge principally works your gluteal muscles that extend your hips but also develop your rectus abdominus and TVA
  • Stepping it up: Once in a strong bridge position try extending one leg out straight from the knee, without letting your hips drop!

4. Press Up

Quite simply one of the best exercises you can do. Having the stability benefit of the plank, the press up also conditions your upper body - why is this important? You’ll swing your arms well over 35,000 times during a marathon! 

Breaking it down: place your hands a shoulder and a half’s width apart, get into the plank position, but with your knees touching the ground and feet off the floor, lower your chest to the floor and push back up, not just pushing through your chest and arms, but also through your core. Push yourself until you feel you could only complete 1 more repetition without failing.

  • Muscles strengthened: the press up is a fabulous full body exercise because in addition to working all the muscles used in a plank, you also develop your pectoral and tricep muscles in your arms which play a crucial role in providing power and balance in your running stride.
  • Stepping it up: go full body! Instead of placing your knees on the floor, complete your press up whilst holding a full plank position but maintain the depth of your press up. This dynamic full body exercise is all about the legs, it also helps develop core stability and control as well as hip alignment.

5. Walking Lunge

This works all the key running muscles in a fantastic full chain movement. Control and alignment are crucial so don’t rush this one!

Breaking it down: from a tall standing position, step forward into a lunge position, keeping your back heel lifted with hands on hips and squeezing the glute of your rear leg. Bend each knee to 90 degrees. Work to keep your upper body tall and shoulders back, your knee should not be over the front of your toes. From the lunge position squeeze the muscles of your front leg to get back to the standing position before stepping forward into another lunge with the opposite leg. Work to minimize any poor balance by focusing on a good alignment with toes, hips and chest all pointing forwards. Complete between 5 and 10 steps with each leg.

  • Muscles strengthened: the walking lunge is incredibly effective because not only does it work both the key anterior and posterior muscles of the legs (quads, glutes, hip flexors and hamstrings) evenly it also requires excellent core stability through your TVA and erector.
  • Stepping it up: holding a weight such as a medicine ball directly out in front of your body, step into your lunge before turning your upper body from the hips over your front leg, bring your arms back to the centre before moving into your next lunge.

 6. Single Leg Squat

It’s all about specificity with this one - engaging all the muscles that move you from one stride to the next, the single leg squat strengthens your body whilst mimicking and exaggerating the movement. 

Breaking it down: stand on one leg, engage your glute on your standing leg, keep your hips facing forward and aligned with your knee and toe. Imagine sitting back onto a chair and bending your knee to lower your body towards the ground. You don’t want your knee to roll inwards, so go down as far. Aim for 8-12 repetitions on each leg.

  • Muscles strengthened: the powerful leg muscles – quadriceps, hamstrings and calf muscles. The real advantage though of the single leg squat is that it requires the balance provided by your gluteus maximus and abs as well as your erector spinae – a true full body exercise. By ensuring your knee does not 'collapse inwards' you will also be learning to control and engage your glute medius muscle. 
  • Stepping it up: try your single leg squats on a balance board or BOSU ball to take away stability – but keep that focus on form!
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