9 alternative core exercises to improve running speed
One thing I would like you to take from what follows is that you don’t have to do your core work on the floor.
When we think about increasing core strength, we think about lying on a mat doing plank exercises and crunches, but I can assure you weight training is even more effective.
To some people core work means strengthening your lower abdominals, and the rest of the body will be stable as a result.
However, as stated earlier you can still develop muscle imbalances around your hips, knees and ankles which can lead to injuries.
Muscle imbalances cause the body to compensate.
Also, when you have muscle imbalances the body compensates in other areas of your body which could include your:
So this means that to achieve true core stabilisation to prevent injuries and feel stronger you need to address the imbalances around the joints.
This can be achieved by increasing the strength in the muscles that are weak and under used.
While stretching the overused muscles which are strong and short.
The key muscles to strengthen that can get weak from running are:
- hamstrings (back of the leg)
- gluteus maximus (buttocks)
- lower abdominals.
- Transverse abdominals
- gluteus medius
- gluteus minimus
The best core exercise for runners
An exercise that activates the abdominal muscles, glutes and will super charge your legs is a single leg bridge.
This exercise will teach your abdominal muscles, legs, and bum to work together in an integrated way like the way they need to during running.
A sit up exercise is an isolated movement pattern, whereas running is an integrated movement pattern.
The body never works in isolation, so don’t train it in isolation.
The muscles of the body never work in isolation so when a muscle is trained in isolation it needs to be integrated at a later stage.
This is why an exercise that integrates several different muscles like a one legged bridge are great for running.
It acts as an injury prevention exercise, it also increases power and most importantly it increases speed.
Other muscles that need to be strengthened.
The muscle of key joints like the:
The muscles around these joints need to be strengthened and stretched to prevent injuries like runners’ knee.
What about muscle imbalances and injury prevention?
When we run there is at least 3 and a half times your body weight going through your body, and during intense sessions this impact increases on your body.
Other things that could cause an injury are alignment issues like:
- limb length discrepancies – which is when one leg is longer than the other
- high arches
- pronation of the foot
Many of these problems can be corrected with orthotics.
During running repetitive stresses are placed on the structures of the body (muscles, ligaments), and providing these forces are low enough for the tendons to handle the body will recover, adapt and grow stronger.
The tendons are meant to stretch like an elastic band than rapidly shorten to release the stored energy caused by the force of the leg contacting the ground.
However, when the forces are to great the tendons fatigue, which causes them to degenerate and over a long period of time leads to injuries like Achilles tendinitis.
In order to with stand the forces the body is going through the core strength exercises I recommend will strengthen the muscles and the ligaments to withstand higher forces and keep you within the injury free zone.
Here are the 9 best core exercises for runners:
- Hamstring curl
- One leg squat
- Single leg bridge
- Curtsey lunge
- Roll out
- Jack knife
- Press up
- Shoulder press
- Triceps push ups
1) Hamstring curl:
You will need to either wear socks or to use a cloth on a slippery surface. In addition to causing your abdominal exercises to stabilise your back, this exercise is also great for super charging your hamstrings. Your hamstrings are one of the prime movers during running and the knee bend mimics the action performed at the knee.
2) One legged squat:
You will need to keep your chest elevated, shoulder blades squeezed together and maintain good alignment between your knee and second toe as you lower yourself down. This will require your core muscles to work over time in order to help maintain a straight back. Your core muscles will also need to work with your glutes in order to make sure that you don’t fall sideways.
3) Single leg bridge
This exercise is harder than it looks, however this exercise is probably the single most effective exercise you can have in your strength training arsenal. This exercise will both fire your core and your glutes. Sometimes when you run it is possible to develop one glute that fires properly while the other is weak. By training each glute individually you can ensure that both your glutes work equally.
4) Curtsey lunge
This is a great exercise for stabilising the core while working your body in another plane of motion. There are 3 planes of movement. In one plane your body can rotate, while in the other two planes you can side bend or forward bend. During running we spend all are time in the forward bending plane (sagittal plane), which will cause all of the muscles in that plane of motion to get over used, while the muscles working in the other plane can get under used. An example of a muscle that may get under used are the glute medius and minimus muscles which act as stabilisers.
5) Roll out
This exercise is adapted from the swiss ball exercise called swiss ball roll out. As you slide forward you will need to engage your core to keep your back straight. This is a difficult exercise. Make sure you can hold a plank for at least 2 minutes before attempting this exercise.
6) Jack knife
This exercise strengthens the hip flexor and engages the core throughout the movement. Your will work every second until you stop. This exercise is like how the hip bends during running. This means that your core will be stabilising your back in the same way that you need it to during your runs, which is why this is one of the best core exercises that you can do.
7) Press up
Your body is in a similar position to the plank. However, because your body is moving your core will work harder to stabilise the body. Also, you will work your chest as well.
8) Shoulder press
Because your bum is in the air and body is vertical to the floor your core will activate to keep you in position. As your arms fatigue you will want to lose your body position, but you must use your core to maintain form.
9) Triceps push ups
This exercise is also like the plank. You should only have your hands shoulder width apart. Your feet should also be shoulder width apart. Ensure your belly button is pulled in at all times.