Core strength for runners is important. You’ve heard the running magazines and doctors tout this universal fact for years, but why? A strong core sounds flashy and sexy, but the answer lies deeper than looking good. Sure, you might be able to wash your laundry on your stomach, but don’t mistake that for strength that matters. Run-specific strengthening for your core will not only help you ward off injury, but also help you get more bang for your buck with every step.
In fact, most runners who have a ripped midsection are functionally weak. Muscle heads are strong but it certainly doesn’t make them a fast. If a race was a sit-up competition they would win every time. Luckily, for my sake included, it’s not. When most runners think core they think six pack and chiseled obliques. A powerful supporting cast is often neglected. Deep abdominal, low back, pelvic floor muscles are certainly less appealing than a solid six pack, but they undoubtedly play a lead role while running.
A strong core can accomplish two things for you. First, and most importantly, it can keep you healthy. Second, a strong core can help you run faster. The activation of your core muscles gives you stability. The best visualization resides in this quote: “You cannot fire a cannon from a canoe.” This simple phrase defines the purpose of core strength.
“You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe.”
At push off you’re firing a cannon into the ground, driving yourself forward on the horizontal as you grab real estate with every stride. Your hip, knee, and calf are your cannon, while youre core, comprised of your pelvis, low back, and trunk, provide the supporting surface from which you fire. A weak core is your metaphorical canoe. The weakness yields movement from above. Your pelvis and low back will dance something ugly, shifting and moving as your muscles fail to cement them in place. You’re literally losing your “umph” at push off. You’re cannon loses the ability to transfer force into the ground and you lose speed.
Just as you fire a cannon into the ground, the ground returns fire at initial contact. Within milliseconds of touching the ground your body is exposed to forces roughly three times your bodyweight. Your body absorbs, or is supposed to at least, the force that thunders through your bones, muscles, and tendons. Your core are the big guys that keep everything in check. Your foot, knee, and hip strength make no difference if your abdominals, low back, and pelvic floor is weak. Your core muscles provide the platform for which everything attaches. A weak or unstable platform allows your hip, knee, and ankle to drag through excessive range and eventually causing injury.
The above image displays this concept, showing points in time before contact and through the loading phase of gait. This runner is not strong enough to absorb her landing. A compensation develops where she leans left, kicking her arm out in desperation for balance. Her hip drops as it’s unable to stabilize the pelvis. These few compensations cause drag on the knee, foot, and ankle.
The ground and your body exchange fire with every step. The fire and return fire foster fatigue in your core muscles. Said fatigue then further reduces your platform stability, opening the door for injury. Your unstable platform allows dragging on your joints, muscles, and tendons.
Being a complete runner is more than the miles you log. Your body is similar to your car. You can only beat on it for so long before things start to break. Working on core strength is more than injury prevention. Run specific core strength allows you to distribute more force to the ground a push. Being a mush (yes, that’s a technical term) yields injury and slower splits. Don’t be a mush.