A little tutorial from our in house physiotherapist Sarah Connors on what we should be doing to help get stronger and faster at running

So folks I thought I’d pen my views on core stability.

This is a bit of a changing subject these days with all the original ideas now being rethought.

I think we have to look at why we are doing it and what we are trying to achieve. We want to get stronger and faster at running right? We also want to get fewer injuries?

Firstly what is the core? It was originally the transverse abdominals the corset layer deep in the abdominals and the gluts, however current thinking doesn’t really isolate these muscles but gets them to work with all the muscles around the trunk to give the correct motor patterns. For example to do a one leg squat the gluts have to be activated or the knee will turn in, the abdominals or the pelvis will tilt but each muscle doesn’t work in isolation they work as a team. Conversely we don’t want just the prime movers working i.e. quads and hamstrings, as these will pull you out of line.

So if we take these 2 points and think about them we need our exercises to be as functional and specific as we can.

We need to think about core control rather than core stability. We need to be able to control our movement not have a rigid trunk. I was guilty of trying to be rigid and ended up getting a tear in my external oblique, very strange one only knew via an MRI! I was trying so hard to be stable that I massively overworked my oblique’s and was very stiff. Look at all the best athletes they flow!

If we look at the trunk the thorax has to be able to rotate as this is where we get all our rotation. There is approximately 16 degrees of rotation at each thoracic level and only 1-2 at each lumbar level. So if we make our thorax stiff then all our rotation has to come from lower down. This is when we then get a stiff lumbar spine tight nerves that run down into the hips quads and hamstrings and then overload of these muscles and pain. You know those injuries/niggles that you can’t stretch out, the muscles are being held tight by nerves coming from the spine.

The first thing I want you to try is to relax your shoulders when you run and let the thorax move. I find the pelvis then frees up the hips sit where they should under the pelvis and the body flows. Try it!! 

Then you can start thinking about stopping the pelvis tip forwards by using the pelvic floor and lower abdominals. If we keep this position the gluts will naturally work and the hamstrings will be free to sprint and not be doing the donkeywork and overload.

So how can we help this to happen? Once we get tired the first things that happen are our shoulders hunch thorax gets stiff and pelvis drops. We then can’t pick up our knees and can’t stride out. This is a classic end of marathon pattern and so all the prime movers are massively overworking and cramps occur. Sounds familiar?

Lets start with my favourite exercise. The bridge, this is a great activation exercise for the gluts and then secondly a great strength exercise.

Start by lying on your back knees bent. Lets test you first and see how good you are. Without doing anything else left one leg in the air and then lift the hip and pelvis of the other leg off the ground and repeat x 20. Then compare with the other leg. Are they the same? Does the pelvis stay level? Does the hamstring feel like it’s going to cramp?

If both are even and the glut feels like it’s done all the work then fab!

If not lets modify:

So start again initially tip pelvis back so back is flat on the floor, then engage lower abdominals and gluts and curl pelvis off the floor. Hold for 10 seconds then repeat x10.

For strength same starting point but have one leg in the air and lift 3x 20 or modify if too hard.

That’s my favourite so if you only do one make it that one!

Lets talk about the plank, a great exercise for getting everything toned and strong but we don’t run in this rigid position so lets make it functional and change it into mountain climbers. Plank position on hands rather than elbows then hold and take one knee to elbow and repeat on each side till fatigue.

If you feel the need to plank then think about how you are doing it. Get someone to press into your gluts chances are they are doing nothing, so switch them on, squeezing them is best and lower abdominals, much harder now right? If so then drop down onto knees and get used to doing it properly before you go back into a full plank.

Getting the picture? We are thinking about the exercises we do and why we are doing them. You can now apply this theory to any core exercises. Why and what muscles are we activating.

It’s good to get weight bearing so we can look at the traditional clam, lying on side and lifting one knee. If we stand with cliniband round our knees we can either crab walk sideways or just stand and turn knees out while engaging gluts. Or go into a lunge position with someone holding band out the side and keep the knee straight all good ways of working the same muscles.

Also there is no harm in doing simple one leg dips keeping form i.e. knee over 2nd toe. Lunges, again keeping good form. If you don’t do any strength work then these are a great starting point. The stronger your legs are the less likely you will fail. However strength exercise are still best if functional and related to running. Using cliniband tied behind you and bringing the arm forwards while lifting the other knee keeping core controlled is a great one.

Hope these thoughts help, let me know your favourite exercises and why you do them ultimately it’s all about staying as strong and keeping good form for as long throughout a race as you can. Poor form and hence biomechanics causes injuries.

Tendons next unless I get any other requests.

written by

Holly Rush

ASICS UK Frontrunner Community Manager from Bradford on Avon

Age group: 40-45

Club: Avon Valley Runners

Coach: Alan Storey

ultra trail trail 10k marathon ultra marathon mountain running
half marathon
ultra_trail trail 10k marathon ultra_marathon mountain_running half_marathon