Rest Day? Why Not Make It a Core Day?
Its very simple.. good movement begins with the proper alignment of the spine. A strong core provides stability for the pelvis and support for the lower back. Imagine a vehicle.. if one of the components is misaligned, the steering will vibrate, the tires will wear unevenly and other parts will become damaged. This is also true of your body.. if there is an unstable pelvis or misalignment of the spine, this puts unnecessary tension on the neck, shoulders and back as well as compromising the integrity of the joints. This means that your muscles will be working overtime …resulting in wasted energy and poor form. If you focus on strengthening your core muscles..they become the powerhouse for movement so other muscles do not get over-used which reduces the risk of injury. An athlete that can tap into the core strength can improve alignment and makes sporting movements graceful, ‘easy’ and powerful!
So what core muscles are there?
It’s not just about a six-pack! The abdominals, lower back, glutes and hips are all the focus here and must work to balance each other as well as generating strength to perform a movement. Without core support, excess stress is placed on your spine, hips, knees and ankles. Imagine a strong distance runner. They have a strong but fluid movement which is energy efficient with little waste. You will notice a verticle alignment from ears to ankles. Their feet land directly below the body and the shoulders are relaxed. This efficient runner is stabilizing from the core, minimzing any unnecessary up and down or side to side motions. The quality of a runner’s posture is built on a strong core awareness and strength and can make the difference between an efficient stride and one that looks lop-sided and results in injury. But not only runners – the core is what gives power to a karate punch, a rower to create a powerful stroke or a climber hang upside-down on a rock face!
I would recommend, if you are frustrated with injury, want to get to the next level of performance and keen to set new goals then incorporate core training. This can be done independently with knowledge of some key exercises..but we are all unique in our genetic make-up and natural or developed strengths and weaknesses. If there is a missing link in the chain, I would thoroughly recommend getting some core training advice from a personal trainer. I work at Peak Fitness in Warwick and there are some fantastic personal trainers there who can tailor-make a training plan with core exercises based on your unique needs and weaknesses. Also, I would personally recommend a couple of great core exercises which I feel are basic core strengtheners…
- the plank (prone and side – but avoid the back plank as it can put stress on the spine)
- a floor sit-up or crunch (with oblique twist)
- the bridge
The plank and bridge can incorporate a leg raise which in the plank makes the abdomen work harder and in the bridge employs the hip muscles. Here is a great link to these exercises with instruction on how to perform them well Ros’ recommended core exercises for runners.
For complete muscle balance, good flexibility should also be maintained although it is sometimes prioritised and the core strengthening overlooked… particularly by women who tend to be more flexible anyway (whilst men tend to prefer the core exercises and forget the stretching!) The best recipe for running efficiency I believe incorporates boosting core strength and restoring balance to the muscles – so strengthening the core whilst maintaining a post-run stretch programme and getting regular Sports Massages which relax any areas of excess tightness.