What is the core?
Many of you will have heard before that the core isn’t just the 6-pack muscles… It’s all the muscles on your torso that aren’t part of your limbs and core encompasses:
- The 4 layers of abdominals (Rectus abdominus, internal and external obliques and transverse abdominus)
- The deep lower back muscles (Erector spinae)
- The diaphragm, pelvic floor and hip muscles (Hip flexors and glutes).
Outside of making you look ‘ripped’, the core has a huge role in daily function, and of course, athletic performance.
The core works to stabilise the spine and pelvis positions. If you get knocked over unexpectedly, or you’re standing on a moving bus, the core helps you to stay upright. The core also creates movement so you can do basic things like pick up something from the ground or sit-up from a lying position in bed.
The core generates and transfers energy from the large to small parts of the body and also transfers force between the upper and lower body. This allows the whole body to move in a coordinated way to produce big movements like running, jumping and throwing in athletic settings.
Does it help running performance?
High athletic performance, particularly in running, comes from having good awareness of core positioning, stability and strength. Given that the legs are attached to the core, the legs depend on a stable and strong core so that they can be put in an optimal position with optimal timing and speed for better running.
From a performance perspective, a strong core will be able to hold the ideal position of a neutral spine and posterior pelvic tilt during running. This means:
- The glutes and hamstrings will be in an optimal position activate and produce powerful hip extension
- There will be more activity from the natural stretch reflex to bring the leg forwards for the next step instead of relying on the smaller hip flexors to work overtime
- There will be reduced side to side movement of the hips with each steps
… All allowing the runner to be more economical and powerful to run faster.
A study by Sato and Mohkha (2009) looked at the effects of 4x weekly core training on the 5km performance. They found that after 6 weeks of this regime, runners improved their 5km PB by 47 seconds, compared to those who didn’t engage in the core regime who improved their PB by 17 seconds (1).
From an injury perspective, a strong core that is able to support the spine and hips will keep the lower body joints more aligned throughout the running cycle, minimising excessive stress on the musculoskeletal system. Research has consistently shown that core and hip muscle strength is protective in preventing and improving lower back pain and lower body injuries (2,3,4,5)
5 go-to exercises for the core
- Dead bugs
Dead bugs are great because they can be easy to do for beginners, but can also be progressed to an advanced level. This is the first exercise I often teach for spine and pelvis positioning.
Starts with deadbugs sets of 6-10, progress to double leg, then gouble arm and double leg at the same time.
Birddogs are also good for spine and pelvis positioning. With your back hovering in the air instead of flat on the ground, there is more positional awareness and stability requirements to get this right.
3. Side plank
A challenging stabilising exercise for both the core, and strength of the glute medius as well. Win win!
4. Pallof press
Another stabilising exercise, but quite challenging as there is external resistance to offset your centre of mass. The pallof press is a great one for the obliques.
These target the lower back muscles rather than the abdominals. The lower back is often forgotten, but plays a significant role in spinal stabilisation. It also works the glutes/hamstrings and has high levels of shoulder mobility requirements!
Now you have a few exercises to add into your program to train your core! If you’re still unsure, and want to find out more about how to optimize your athletic potential, then shoot me a message firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to help out!
1. Does core strength training influence running kinetics, lower-extremity stability, and 5000-M performance in runners? (2019) Sato & Mokha.
2.Strengthening of the Hip and Core Versus Knee Muscles for the Treatment of Patellofemoral Pain: A Multicenter Randomized Controlled Trial. (2015) Ferber et al.
3. Core Stability Measures as Risk Factors for Lower Extremity Injury in Athletes (2004) Darin et al.
4. Is core stability a risk factor for lower extremity injuries in an athletic population? A systematic review. (2018) De Blaiser et al.
5. Core strength training for patients with chronic low back pain (2015). Chang et al.