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Core Strength Training for Running

  • Jeff North, MDIn the last few years, “the core” has become a buzzword in the exercise and fitness community. According to MossRehab’s Sports & Spine Rehabilitation specialist Jeff North, MD, our core is literally our core, or the center of our body and the central portion of our movements.

    All of our body’s motions and force production involve a properly functioning core. Our core is not just our abdominals. It includes the thoracic and lumbar spine, abdominal muscles, back muscles, pelvic and hip girdle muscles (especially the gluteals) and the thigh muscles.

    Core exercises should be a key component of any training program – especially a distance running program.  

    A correctly functioning core will yield proper biomechanics and force production, allowing:

    • Stability – including lumbar, pelvic, and lower limb stability
    • Power
    • Endurance

    A weak core will yield dysfunctional biomechanics, and leads to increased strain elsewhere, contributing to:

    • Compensation and overuse movement patterns
    • Over-striding or under-striding with running
    • Increased frontal plane movements (side to side movements) of the lumbar spine, pelvis and hips

    These compensatory movement patterns will lead to overuse injuries and have been linked to various disorders common to runners, including: 

    • Iliotibial band (IT Band) syndrome
    • Patellofemoral pain and dysfunction
    • Low back and Sacroiliac (SI joint) disorders
    • Medial Tibial Stress Syndrome (shin splints)
    • Achilles tendinopathy
    • Plantar fasciitis

    A core strengthening program should progress initially from "open-chain" (i.e. non-weight bearing) exercises toward "closed-chain" (weight bearing) exercises.  The goal is to stimulate and train the muscles to function in a manner and position that they would normally be stressed.

    In running, our bodies are erect, with weight bearing and landing on our legs, so the strengthening exercises should reproduce these positions and movement patterns.  The exercises should also incorporate all planes of movement of the body to allow ideal muscle stimulation and development.  

    Some examples of core strengthening exercises for runners include:

    Initial Phase

    • Bridges
    • Side-lying clam shells
    • Bird-dogs
    • Planks (prone planks and side-lying)

    Closed-Chain and More Advanced

    • Side steps or walking with resistance band (band wrapped around ankles)
    • Hip hikes and/or single leg step-ups/step-downs
    • Squats
    • Lunges
    • Single leg squats (pistol squats)
    • Chops, reverse chops, lawnmower pulls with cable or resistance band 
    • Progress from double leg to single leg

    Advanced and Sport Specific

    • Multiple plane running – backwards, side step, cariocas, ladder drills, etc. 
    • Plyometrics – jumping and landing drills

    Proper mechanics is the key to injury prevention as well as improved athletic performance.  Focus on good mechanics and consider consulting a personal trainer, physical therapist or other medical specialist to assist you with your exercise and strength program and progression.

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