Day 12: Weakest Link?

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A mechanical structure is only as good as its weakest link, and weak core muscles can lead to injuries and disappointing race times.

While a ripped six-pack may not be main goal for runners, building up core strength does result in many positive benefits when it comes to running. A strong core can improve your running posture & speed. Because your arms and legs all stem from the core, the strength in your limbs are intimately tied to the strength in your torso. Having a strong core sets a solid foundation for strength in the rest of the body.

Let’s talk hips and pelvis….Mark Fidel, the director of Sports Medicine Institute International says,

“When your pelvis is not aligned properly while you run, you become prone to injury. You can get hamstring pulls, Achilles problems, and lower-back pain.”

This is why you need strong core muscles to keep your hips and pelvis right where it’s supposed to be. A well-balanced core also improves your running economy. Result: faster times.

Jack Daniels, Ph.D., exercise physiologist for the Nike Farm Team explains,

“The stronger your core, the more solid you are as you hit the ground. That reduces your need for unnecessary stabilization, and allows you to be a more economical runner.”

A huge benefit of core strength for runners is increased stabilization in the torso. Your core muscles – the chest, back, abs, and obliques – are what keep your torso upright when you run, and reduce “wobbling” when moving your arms & legs. Our core strength allows our pelvis, hips, and lower back to work together more smoothly, with less rocking, expending less energy. Core strength also significantly improves balance, meaning that you recover quickly from missteps small & large.

Core strength for distance runners is even more important. Towards the end of our long runs or races, when we are extremely fatigued, our form begins to suffer. Poor form not only slows us down, it also opens us up to potential injuries.

For distance runners who are familiar with that lower back ache, building up core strength will help to maintain good posture, and reduces the pains that result from poor posture after long periods on our feet.

Lucy Young, a certified personal trainer with a background in competitive track and field who trains clients internationally in England, Canada and Australia, says,

“The more core strength you garner, the more stable your hips, pelvis, and knees become. This means less strain on your connective tissues and muscles.”

If you’ve never done strength training before, it may sound confusing how a strong core would help prevent a number of debilitating running injuries – including those of the hip and knee – but this is the case. It is important to understand that your ‘core’ comprises more than simply your abdominal muscles. It also includes your back, pelvis, and components of your lower trunk – such as your hip flexors, abductors and adductors.

We work our core several times a week for a reason….because our core is often our weakest link. A few minutes a day, a few times a week, will help us form a strong, stable core that will help us stay on the road doing what we love most…running!

Day 12 exercises: 2-3 sets of 10 

  • Bent Over Rows
  • Rope Climbers with weight
  • Ab-Fab Press
  • X or Y Plank – :60

Bonus: Sprinter Abs – This core move will work your running coordination by practicing knee drive, and opposite arm-leg timing. Furthermore, it will activate your hip flexors, pelvic floor and your lower/upper abdominals.

  • Aim for 3 sets of 5–10 repetitions (3×5–10). There is greater leniency in the number of repetitions possible here because the second your form is compromised during this exercise, you should rest. Ensure your back remains straight at all times and that your lower and upper trunks lift off the floor at the same time.

Speed Work: Once again, speed work should be done once per week, unless you are running 6-7 days per week, then you can add a 2nd day of speed work. But for most of us, once a week is the most we need to add to avoid pushing too hard and causing injuries. I usually do my speed work on Wednesday since it gives me enough time to recover from my weekend long run, and enough time after to get ready to go long again. Those easier recovery days in between are crucial for allowing our muscles to rebuild.

For this week’s speed workout, click here and scroll down.

Day 12 “how to” videos:

Bent Over Rows: Bent-over dumbbell rows are compound free-weight exercises that use many of your upper-body muscles. Similar to the bent-over barbell row, the supported position commonly used in the dumbbell version places less stress on your lower back and may be a safer option for anyone with lower back issues.

Rope Climbers with weights: Rope Climb Crunches makes crunching more fun, more exciting and more effective. This ab exercise works not only your upper abs but your obliques as well thanks to the torso twisting motion. As a result it is an incredible abdominal burner. Start without weights but if this feels to easy add small weights (I have a small pair of 2 lb weights that are perfect for this exercise). This will add an arm workout as well as working our core.

Ab-Fab Press: Again, core and arms. Keep your body nice, long and strong.

X or Y Plank: The X and Y plank are similar except for the X plank our legs are in a wide stance and for the Y plank our legs are closer together in a more closed stance. In each plank, our arms/hands are farther out to the sides. Try it both ways for :30 – :60 each or hold it for as long as you can.

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