Core Strength and Conditioning for Runners
Core muscles include the postural muscles, which includes the muscles of the back, stomach, and hips. These muscles help us stand upright, transfer energy, and distribute the stress of bearing weight on two legs. The majority of the core muscles are deep tissue muscles rather than those at the surface.
Improving muscular strength by developing the postural muscles will reduce your risk of injury and improve your running performance. Particularly with distance running, core muscles become very important in the latter stages of a race when fatigue sets in and form begins to fall apart. The stronger we are, the longer we can hold running form, which naturally translates to improved performance.
Ultimately, the more developed your core muscles are, the better your body will be able to respond to demands placed upon it.
Three top core strength exercises for runners
Plank with leg lift
Lie on the floor face down with your weight on your forearms and toes. Raise your right leg up and down slowly 5-10 times. Repeat with the other leg. This develops stomach and back strength. Build up to 10-15 reps and then add a second set. Light ankle weights can also be added to increase the resistance.
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet with your feet quite close to your bum. Lift your bum and back off the floor so that only your feet and shoulders remain in contact with the floor. Slowly lower back down and repeat. Build up to 10 of these and do them slowly. As you improve at this exercise hold your stomach in before you arch up. Once you can do 20 of these with both feet flat on the floor then do them with only one foot remaining on the floor and keep the other leg out straight. This exercise strengthens your glutes muscles.
Stand on one leg, bend at the knee on this leg to go down then push back up on the single leg. Build up to 10-15 per leg. These can be very difficult to start with as you also need to utilise good balance which requires strong core muscles. You may need to start with double leg squats and when you can do 20 double leg squats move to 3-4 single leg and build up from there.
Conditioning drills break running down into component parts in order to isolate specific actions and muscles. Each of the drills outlined below develop a different aspect of running action.
Running down hill particularly over broken ground requires fast light feet. On broken ground shorter faster steps are better than over striding. On grass run on your fore foot with a high cadence (count each time one foot touches the ground) for 1 minute. Aim for 100 on your right foot within 1 minute. Concentrate on keeping the pace high with knees not lifting too much. It may take a few sessions to get your cadence at 100 per minute. Once you can do this on the flat practice it on a gradient and then on steeper gradients.
On flat grass, run by lifting your knees up high and pumping your arms back and forwards for 100- 150 metres. Focus on the push off on the foot and not on leg speed. This develops your glutes and hamstring power.
Modified Bum kick
Run and bring your heel up under your bum with each foot for a full 150 metres. Concentrate on your heel coming up underneath you. This develops the 'recovery' stage of the leg cycle, bringing the foot from behind, under the bum before being placed on the ground. It engages the hamstrings and accentuates the recovery of the leg from behind.