What does core strength mean?
Core Strength refers to the stabilising muscles that support our posture and are literally in the middle of our bodies: in our stomach, hip, pelvis and lower back. When these muscles are strong and in balance with each other, we walk taller, run better and are less prone to injury, as less pressure comes to bear on our joints.
Lower Back Muscles
Why does core strength help with running?
Our core muscles support and ease every movement we make. We need a strong core for running because it will help protect us from knee and ankle injuries, hip and lower back pain, as well as lessening over-pronation of our feet.
When our core muscles are strong they act as stabilisers for our legs – there is less inward motion of our knees, which reduces the strain on our knee joints and in turn our achilles. Try standing in front of the mirror with feet a fist width apart, bend a little at the knees (as much as you do when running) and look at your knees. Now repeat but first tense your glute (butt) muscles. You will see that your knees stay straighter when the glutes are fired, and that’s just one part of the core muscle group.
We don’t only get pain in our knees and feet when we run long distance. As our body fatigues we can suffer from lower back tightness, IT-band stiffness, hip pain, and more. The greater our core strength, the longer the supporting muscles will do their job well. A strong core results in a better race.
The best core exercises for runners:
- Side Plank
- Plank with Toe Taps
- Single or Double Leg Bridge
- Leg Raises
- Side Leg Raises
- Stomach Crunch
- Cross-Body Bicycle Crunch
- Pilates Hundreds
- Cross-Body Mountain Climber
- Superman Pull
Thera-Band Resistance Bands
The red band provides medium resistance (5.5 pounds of force when stretched to 200% of its length); green provides a heavier resistance of 6.7 pounds; blue provides heavier resistance (with 8.6 pounds of force). Higher resistance bands are great for people who already work out regularly. Beginners may want to start with a lower one.
How often should runners do core exercises?
You should aim for a core running workout at least once a week to keep your core strong and healthy. If you’ve only got 10 minutes then you need to fit that in more than once a week. If you work for 30 mins or do a Pilates class then once a week with suffice, though more is also good :-)
Make sure you choose a balance of exercises, don’t just do stomach crunches. An ideal core running exercise plan would include:
- Stomach crunch plus leg raise for the lower stomach muscles
- Some glute exercises for both the big main muscle (maximus) and the side medius, like a bridge (works your pelvis too) and a side leg raise
- Something to build power in your sides like a side plank
- And always throw in the plank as that works the whole lot!
Should you do core exercises before or after running?
It’s a great idea to fire your glutes before running; wake them up with a bridge exercise and they’ll be more engaged when you’re running. However, you need to balance your energy output; if you’re going out for a long run you don’t want to add 30 minutes of core exercises before.
I always feel a bit strange if I run after a Pilates class, but that could just be me. I prefer the intensity of the run first and then the easing and strengthening balance of a class after. If you’re doing a short burst of exercises a few times a week, try it after a run. If you’re doing one longer session try to run at a different time of day or do it on a rest day.
Does a strong core help you run faster?
Without a doubt building your core strength will help you run faster. When your core is strong, your running posture improves, and you move with greater efficiency of stride. All of that helps you maximise your power and therefore your speed.
Does running improve core strength?
Not really. I’ve known long-term runners with severe lower back issues due to the fact that they’ve totally ignored their stomach muscle strength. Running can strengthen your glutes a bit, especially speedwork, and the increase in fitness from running will have a positive impact on the strength of your whole body, but it doesn’t target the core muscle groups.
Should you brace your core while running?
If you fire up your glutes before running, have good core strength, and keep an awareness of your posture, you don’t need to brace your core when running. Forcing your body into a position can create tension, so it’s better to invest in strength-building and then try to maintain a good running posture, which will be helped by the strength you’ve built into your core.