Physical Therapy For Runners: Focus on the Core-set!

English: an exercise of abs
Is this really going to help me fix my foot? Yep!ย  img via Wikipedia

I tend to go through phases where I am really good at the extracurricular activities for my running, I commit to boot camp like strength training, or Jay Johnson’s core circuits for a few months but somewhere along the way run-focused training takes over and I get away from building my core strength.ย  While it seems like ages ago, after my fall marathon I finally committed to trying out more focused physical therapy (PT) to fix my foot.

And by that, I mean my friends and coaches basically staged an intervention and forced me to go to PT with threats of mutiny if I did not. Heh.

I started at Activ PT in Richfield, Ohio, where therapists focus on the athlete’s core. It’s a no brainer, and we have all been taught to exercise our core. But it was a huge epiphany for me when I began working with a therapist and learned how to properly engage the core, during all exercise, and especially during all PT!


residential mailbox, United States
I had to quit PT or this guy would have become my worst enemy when the bills rolled in. img via wikipedia

At Activ, I had a great experience with my therapist, Ed, and even had some fun at home PT sessions with Salty! But unfortunately with no insurance coverage for PT, and a dwindling pocket-book, I was forced to take the lessons I learned from PT home.ย  Nonetheless it was great to learn there is a better way to go about all exercises, and it’s been impressive how quickly I’ve improved my core strength, just doing simple movements!

I know I’m not alone amidst the many runners who could greatly benefit from weekly hands-on PT sessions, or among those that just can’t afford the treatment. Thankfully there were some major take-aways I got from PT that are applicable to all runners no matter their injury. I’m still implementing the lessons Ed taught me, and I want to share them with you Salty Readers!

Today I want to focus on my PT epiphany which was learning how to properly engage my core during PT exercises, and throughout the day.

Style9781abdominal corset
Hey hot stuff, is your core engaged under that girdle? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The first step for finding and engaging the core is to lie on your back and relax, you want your spine lengthened and your pelvic bones level. Use your hand over your stomach and note how your core reacts to breathing, especially when you breathe out and you naturally engage your core. Then, the trick is to pretend your inner core is a corset, and focus on wrapping your core in that corset, not so tight that your abs are working hard, but enough to notice it. This simple visualization of imagining my core as a corset has been eye-opening. It is an easy concept to practice while seated at work, or driving, and you can even try it while running. Another way to think of it is engaging your core so it is cradling and supporting your spine. It sounds nuts but I could actually feel my back pain dissipate as I correctly engaged my core.

As an introduction to engaging your inner corset try out these simple exercises, but instead of cranking through repetitions really focus on slowing down the exercise and feeling your inner corset supporting your spine and core with each step!

  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Slowly lower your right foot and leg forward out away from your body focusing on your inner corset and not letting your hip carriage change (don’t let your hips rock back and forth, keep your hip bones pointed up like you are balancing a glass of water on pelvic bone). Repeat on your left. See if you notice a difference!
  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Slowly lower your right knee to your right side towards the floor. Again focusing on your inner corset and not letting your hip carriage change.
  • Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Slowly raise both hips to a bridge position. Again focusing on your inner corset and not letting your hip carriage change.
Underbust corset with 16" waist
This is probably too hard, dear. img via wikipedia


Be sure to leave some natural arch to your spine, and remember that tightening your corset doesn’t mean squeezing really really hard! There is a difference between engaged and stressed!


What PT exercises do you use to make yourself a healthier, stronger runner? Have you been keeping your core-set engaged?

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A gal on a mission to save Cuyahoga County streams one storm water facility at a time. An ex runner of many facets including marathons, pacing, ultras and more. Chronic left side issues have me cycling more than running these days but I'm attempting to get back to my running roots.

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  1. Core is key! I think runners can really benefit from thinking of the core as the hips and shoulders in addition to the abs/back. If those three areas are strong, you have a solid base for everything else to work. I just love the kinetic chain and could talk on this for hours:) Great post, Pepper!