These days you hear a lot about the importance of core strength for all types of sports. But what is core strength and how does it relate to running? To answer that question we have to look at the literature and definitions can be complicated. Put simply core strength is the ability of the lower back, pelvis and hips to maintain the spine in the best position for movement and strength. So why is this important for running? Well running can really test your body and because it is so repetitive it can turn small mechanical issues that sedentary people would never notice into overuse injuries and pain. For example, low arches can cause the leg to rotate inward, putting stress on knees and the lower back, small torsion or twists in the leg bones can do the same and tightness through hip flexors, qaud's and hamstrings can tilt the pelvis as well as effect endurance and strength of the muscles involved.
Proper strength and endurance of the most important core muscles can be your best defence against these physical imperfections. Accordingly, core exercises should be a part of any serious runner's program. The question is how do you know what your core strength is like and how do you start to address it? When it comes to running there are a number of useful screening tests that can also double as the start of a core program.
1) Hip Abduction (raising the hip in side lying)
Lie on your side with your lower limbs, trunk and pelvis aligned. Imagine there is a pin running from the side of your hip into the floor. Set your deep abdominals (gently drawing in) and raise the top leg slowly. Hold for 5 seconds and slowly lower.
Notice if your pelvis tips forward or back, if your leg moves forward away from the plane of the body or your trunk and shoulders start to rotate. These are indications your core strength needs some work.
2) Single Leg Squat
Standing on one leg, set deep abdominals and slowly squat to 45 degrees. Return to straight leg position.
Notice if your hip drops or tilts. If your knee wobbles or tracks inward. Be aware of the smoothness of the movement and try to move slowly through entire range. Take note of what ranges you rush through.
3) 2 to 1's
Start in normal stance position. Do a small jump landing on single leg. Repeat on the other side.
Notice the quality of the landing. Good technique is smooth and controlled. Hips stay level, knees in alignment. Watch out for heavy or loud landing, kneed wobbling or moving inward. Does the hip drop slightly?
These simple screening tests are usually done by your health professional. It is always a good idea to start improving your own body awareness so start trying them in front of a mirror first. As long as you don't have any pain or other health condition, you can start using these as part of your core program. Get your hip abduction and single leg squat right first. Remember these are technique based exercises so start with only a few repetitions. If you notice technique deteriorates, STOP, rest and come back to it. When you get the first two right progress to your 2 to 1's. Often you will be good at these for the first 5 to 10 but if your endurance is down, technique will soon start to suffer. This can be indicative of what is happening with your running particularly if you are experiencing problems at a specific time or distance.
These three screening tests target gluteal or buttock as well as quadriceps strength. They are one particular element of core stability for running. There are more. To perform at your best it is useful to understand how these muscles behave in as much detail as possible. Stay tuned for updates on how to get the most out of your core strength to optimise endurance and speed for running so you can stay on track and in the race.
If you would like more information on how to improve your core strength please call us on 07 3847 8040 or Click Here to book a consultation online.
Crossley et al. (2011). American Journal of Sports Medicine.
Heinart et al. (2008). Journal of Sports Rehabilitation.
Jull and Janda. (1987).