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Core Stability Training for Runners

Giles Gyer, co-director of Osteon physical therapy, explains why core stability is relevant to runners and demonstrates four exercises to improve your core strength.


A lot of patients ask me, "What's the score with core stability training?" They want to know whether it will cure their back pain, make them a better athlete, what they have to do and how to do it.

It's really not an easy question to answer. There are two camps in the 'core' debate: those that believe it's the cure-all exercise that will banish back pain and make you into an elite runner; and those that think its been hyped up, based on poor research and isn’t as amazing as everyone portrays.

Personally I see it as a good addition to any training programme. I don't believe all the hype, but the body is a unit after all. It works together and therefore we shouldn’t neglect any body part, so here is a basic guide to core stability training and four of the best exercises you can add easily into any programme.

Why should runners do core stability exercises?
  • Running involves a balance of powerful movements, it's a complex activity and you need a strong foundation. Any weakness or imbalance within the muscles of the body, including the core, can lead to a decrease in efficient movement.
  • If you're not running efficiently you're using up too much energy, you'll fatigue quicker and your body will make compensatory movements which can lead to increased strain on muscles, ligaments and tendons.
  • Increased strain causes overuse and can ultimately lead to injury and lay off from training.

 

As with 'single leg strength training', which I am a real advocate of, by addressing muscular imbalances and 'improving muscular strength' you will 'prevent and reduce injuries to the body' and as a runner you will improve your efficiency and overall performance.

1 - The Side Plank

This is an excellent exercise that hits the Quadratus Lumborum or "QL" for short. This is such an underrated and neglected muscle, yet it's vital for strength and stability and is critical when you run. The QL is a great lumbar stabiliser, it attaches from the pelvis to the lumbar spine and 12th rib, working in rotation and lateral bending.

So how does this affect runners? Well, the QL works with the opposing adductors, tensor fascia latae and glute medius to stabilise the pelvis; this helps control the femur as you run and, if weak or unbalanced, it can cause instability in the hips and changes the loading pattern on your body as you run.

How to do the Side Plank

Lift your body off the ground and balance on one forearm and the side of your foot. Contract your abdominals (stomach) and relax your shoulders, keep the hips up and don't let them sag, and hold that position, focusing on the mind muscle connection.

2 - The Plank

For runners, this is a great exercise. This tough, isometric exercise works on spinal stabilisation and by strengthening your core it works to improve the stability your spine and limbs during running. The plank exercise engages the muscles in your lower back, your rectus abdominus and the deep abdominal layer and the transverse abdominals.

How to do the Plank

Begin in the plank position with your forearms and toes on the floor. Keep your torso straight and rigid and your body in a straight line from ears to toes with no sagging. Your head should be relaxed and you should be looking at the floor.

3 - The Bridge

The single leg bridge exercise is a great way to isolate and strengthen the glute muscles. These are often neglected in runners, can be a difficult muscle to train and, considering the glute med is incredibly important in leg movement and stability, any weakness in this area can lead to increased risk of injury. If you do this exercise correctly, you will also find that it is a great core strengthening exercise.

In order to hold the pelvis level throughout the exercise, you need to contract both the abdominal and lower back muscles.

How to do the bridge

Lay on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure your feet are under your knees, then tighten your abs and buttock muscles, raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders, then squeeze your core and slowly raise and extend one leg while keeping your pelvis raised and level.

4 - The Wall Squat

This exercise is not normally part of a core stability workout, but I still think it's relevant and very effective.

It will kill your quads, brace your abs and lower back; it's awesome at building up isometric strength and endurance in the quadriceps, glutes and calves, it builds lower body endurance, and hits hard-to-train muscles like the glute medius.

It's mainly used to strengthen the legs pre-season, but this technique will help increase your speed and endurance.

Strengthening your thighs can also prevent injuries such as runner's knee.

How to do the wall squat

Start with your back against a wall, your feet shoulder width apart and about two feet from the wall, then slowly slide your back down the wall until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Adjust your feet if you need to so that your knees are directly above your ankles and keep your back flat against the wall.