Now that Clove has issued a body image adjustment challenge and Salty has repeatedly told us we should run shirtless without shame during the summer heat, it is time to getting working on those rock hard abs!
I’m kidding – sort of. This post is not about physical appearance. While chiseled, rock hard abs would no doubt be fabulous, there is a higher purpose for this post. Building a strong core will help improve your running and will help stave off injury – even if you are not rocking out a six pack like the people in that photo. Nope, you and I can build our cores and improve our running performance too.
Your core helps stabilize your hips and spine. If it is not strong, it can’t do its job as well. Which means you are less efficient and much more prone to injury. Most runners know this. But many have no idea where to start. We are here to help.
First, it is important to know that you need to focus on much more than just your abdominal muscles. While sit-ups and crunches are great, they are not enough to keep your stabilizing core strong. Instead, you should focus on the area targeted in Pilates: the powerhouse.
As you can see from the image above, the powerhouse includes the muscles from your rib cage, through the hips, and down to your upper thighs. It stretches all the way around your mid-section to your back and includes all the little (and big!!) muscles in the interior of your trunk. We are talking about your abs, your back, your hips, your glutes, your pelvic floor, your inner thighs and many more muscles with highly technical terms (such as the psoas and piriformis). All of these muscles work together to stabilize your body. If they are all strong, you can avoid common injuries, such as IT band pain, runner’s knee, back problems, etc.
So how do you strengthen your powerhouse? There are many different ways runners can strengthen their core and improve their running. My favorite is Pilates. There is no doubt that my running was at its best (as was my bod) when I was doing Pilates daily. Unfortunately, as I try to fit one million and forty-six things in my life, it is any easy one for me to neglect. But I know that is a huge mistake.
You can find Pilates classes as most fitness centers. Don’t have time to take a class? You can always buy a DVD series. I did Winsor Pilates right after my kiddos were born and for years after. (These are my favorites: abs and buns and thighs.) In fact, I still do it, but I no longer need the videos since I’ve done it for so many years. While I admittedly don’t do it regularly enough, I will tell you it has provided amazing results.
I know many women who swear by Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred – which is a combination of short bursts of ab work, strength and cardio. I haven’t tried it, but have only heard very good things.
Many runners also swear by yoga or yogalates. Both are also great options.
Alternatively, you can find a plethora of running-specific core exercises you can do. One of my favorites is the plank! Here is a great YouTube Video showing some great beginner core exercises:
If that is not enough and you want some Olympic ab inspiration, check out this awesome video by Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher. I don’t know about you, but they certainly have inspired me to break out the exercise ball:
In the interest of full disclosure, please know that this stuff is not easy. Shalane may make it look like a piece of cake, but it is hard work. If you are not doing any core work, move into it slowly. The first time I did planks, I did 5 60 second planks. No problem right? I have been doing core work for 10+ years. Um, no. My abs hurt so bad I couldn’t run the next day. So work that powerhouse, just be smart at first. 🙂
And please share any tips you have for our readers! What are your favorite exercises / workouts to keep the core strong?