January 17, 2013

What is Core Strength and Why is It Important?

Written by Dena Evans

cobraThe terms “core” or “core strength” are some of the most common words / phrases heard around the gym or track in recent years.  Many runners would accept the idea that it would be desirable to have a strong core, but rarely do we think about what that really means or why exactly it would be helpful.


What are we actually talking about when we talk about core?

Core strength should not be confused with having a rippling six-pack like a model on an exercise machine infomercial.  Although many people with very well defined front abdominal muscles do have a strong core, it is not one and the same.


The core could be described as your body except for your limbs, but thinking specifically as runners, your core comprises the parts of your trunk that help stabilize you to resist forces of gravity and allow you to effectively operate those same limbs (levers) in the direction and at the speed you want to go.


It is all very plane.

The muscles in the core are what we can most effectively manipulate to change how well the core does its job as we stabilize ourselves in the various directions we want (or do not want) our body to go.  If we want a slight forward lean when we run, or efficiently move up and down hill, we need to have some control over our movement in the sagittal (back and forth) plane.  If we want to keep our balance on rocky terrain, stabilize ourselves with cambered roads, or handle the effects of uneven leg lengths or other forces moving us left and right, we need to have a strong muscles that allow us to affect desired movements in the coronal/frontal plane.  If we want to limit or enhance rotation (usually in running, we want to limit trunk rotation), then we need to strengthen muscles that give us control in the transverse plane.


All of these directions and alignment / stabilization needs require us to pay attention to much more than what we conventionally think of as our “core” muscles.  Instead of just surface abdominals, runners are well advised to pay attention to their glutes, back, hip flexors, pelvic floor, and deep abdominals such as the psoas.  If we stay aligned and so our stride remains true, we give ourselves the best chance to run as efficiently as our given anatomy will allow.  With strengthening of the muscles that provide this stabilization and control over the non-beneficial movements we might make (especially as we tire) in the various planes of movement, we allow ourselves the best chance to keep that stride true even as we fatigue and dig deep.


Time to turn the core-ner!

When the core is weak or inflexible, often the ends of the levers (limbs) attached must take on some of the unassimilated gravitational stress.  Your sore calf, aching shoulders, tender plantar, or achilles might easily be able to count among its assailants a set of trunk muscles that aren’t doing quite enough to dissipate the forces at play.  Whether you currently struggle with an injury or want to proactively get more efficient and improve performance, core strength is always a good priority.


There are many ways to address this via gym classes, videos, and other programs.   However, the important common elements regardless of your favored delivery system should be a comprehensive approach that focuses on the wide variety of muscles from chest to upper legs, and a commitment to consistency on your end.   At runcoach, we have compiled an easy to understand Whole Body Workout with a series of demonstration videos for exercises targeting core muscles.  We encourage you to check it out and use it as your routine or as a starting point for a renewed commitment to core strength.


This year, get on board with a stronger core.  With some hard work on your end, you may end up with washboard abs in time for summer, but more importantly, you will hopefully be able to run healthy and long well into the future.