This year I have some huge running challenges, including my third and fourth marathons, where I am on the hunt to get as close as possible to that golden four hour time I’ve had in my sights for a while. I’m keen to improve my running, however I am very quickly learning that the key to becoming a better runner isn’t solely based on running more. In fact, there are a whole host of other exercises you can do to improve your speed, form and endurance. For me I’ve found that my core is an area that needs some attention. As my runs increase in distance, I begin to experience fatigue and my form suffers leaving me susceptive to aches, pains and injuries. This is something I experienced during my first marathon and I found that my back was extremely tight for a week after. I want to recover quicker, maintain good posture/ form and prevent injuries and therefore paying close attention to my core is important.
Your core is more than your abs, it can include your hips, glutes, hip flexors, obliques and lower back. However, here I am going to focus on my favourite (mostly) abs burners. A strong core is a great foundation for running, as it means a strong torso. This helps to prevent excessive twisting or wobbling during running, minimising sway to ensure you are an economical runner and don’t waste extra energy. Your torso can also help to maintain a neutral pelvis and allow your pelvis, hips and lower back to work together. Strength and core work perfectly compliment your running and hopefully help you improve your speed (if that is the goal), feel stronger and stay injury free.
I am by no means an expert, therefore I have collaborated with my amazing physio Lewis Banger at Fit2Functions clinic, to offer you an insight into some core exercises for runners. Lewis has helped with the writing of this blog, so hopefully we can show you can core exercises from both an expert perspective (Lewis) and a runner (me!).
I always begin with some banded squat walks. I use a medium resistance band around my knees and a lighter band around my ankles. I find these are a great way to activate your glutes, hips and in turn begin to think about stabilising your core.
So here are my favourite core exercises for running. I appreciate quite a few of you might want to give these a go, if so always make sure you are thoroughly warmed up, if you experience any lower back pain it is essential you stop, and anything you try you do so at your own risk!
Russian Twists with a twist!
Russian twists are great for your obliques and in turn will stabilise your torso to prevent over twisting during running. You’ll see loads of people doing these in the gym with a ball, however I prefer turning this into a game of stacking and restacking step risers. For me this ensures that all the movements I do are controlled and avoid the temptation to bounce the ball off the floor. The risers offer a great distraction and mean that you don’t have to worry about losing count.
Lewis’ top tip: Make sure that you complete the exercise slowly and ensure you are breathing throughout. People often forget to breathe which actually makes the exercise more difficult! (Yeah I’m guilty of that one!)
Straight legged crunches
These are great for working your upper abs and you can add a ball to make things a bit more spicy.
Lewis’ top tip: The crunch is safer than completing a full sit up as long as you complete it correctly. By safer I mean that it puts less pressure on the lower back. Ensure that your back is pressed firmly against the floor and your core muscles are engaged. Gently crunch the body forwards to a comfortable position and do not over reach. If it is too difficult with the legs straight in the air you can complete it with the legs in a more bent position as well.
Full sit ups
These offer a wider range of motion than crunches, working both your upper and lower abs. To get full extension and make things a little more fun, I add the step risers, cause lets face it, core needs to be more fun!
Lewis’ top tip: These are a little more difficult than the crunches so can be seen as a progression exercise. Once again make sure that the back is firmly pressed against the floor and breathe on the way up. You can complete this with a partner if you find that your feet lift off the ground – they can hold them in position.
Mountain climbers are a great movement for working a wide range of muscles including deltoids, biceps, triceps, abs, obliques, quads, hamstrings and hip abductors. You can do these fast to get your heart rate up or slower and more controlled to build strength. I add a balance ball to really fire up my core, as you need to use your torso for stability.
Lewis’ top tip: If you find it difficult with the balance ball you can start on a flat surface. Make sure your back is nice and straight and when the leg is brought up try to really engage your core muscles.
And if you’re wondering where the planks are… yeah I hate planks! However they are great for building stability and strength through your midline.
So there you have it, progressing in your running requires more than just running! I’m finding these exercises are really helping with my running, especially my speed work when I want to avoid excessive swaying in my torso.
Thanks so much to Lewis for his expert input. If you’re looking for a physio in London I highly recommend the team at Fit2Function. I was gifted the sessions where these videos were filmed as part of a collaboration, however independent of this I honestly cannot thank Fit2Function enough for getting me through an Achilles injury, some knee/IT band niggles and helping me become a better and stronger runner.
If you’d like more information about Fit2Function clinics, please see their website.