Q I think I’m what you’d call a beginner. I’ve been running for a long time, but with no guidance, or goals or plans. Recently I decided to take it more seriously, so I’ve started following a running plan to get me ready for a half marathon. I was just wondering if you could recommend some strength and core training for me? I’ve always neglected this part of fitness because I hate going to the gym! – ZACH
A Strength training and core workouts go hand in hand with running. While experts may disagree on exactly which muscles comprise the “core” group, they almost all agree that improving muscular strength by developing the postural muscles will reduce your risk of injury and improve your performance, so what’s not to love? Especially with distance running, core muscles become very important in the latter stages of a race when fatigue sets in and form begins to fall apart. The stronger we are, the longer we can hold running form, which naturally translates to improved performance.
Core muscles include the postural muscles, which includes the muscles of the back, stomach, and hips. These muscles help us stand upright, transfer energy, and distribute the stress of bearing weight on two legs. Coming up with a core workout routine is fairly simple and you can even do it outside after your run; it does not require weights or going to the gym, unless you want it too.
Here are a few of my favourite basic core exercises to get you started. These exercises can be performed daily, but begin with every other day to give your muscles recovery time. Begin with just a few repetitions and increase the number gradually. Planks and the Superman Pose can be held for 20 to 30 seconds initially and then gradually extend the time.
The Basic Plank
Hold for 30 seconds, relax and repeat. Gradually increase the number of repetitions and the length of time you hold the pose.
The Side Plank
Hold for 30 seconds, relax and repeat. Gradually increase repetitions and time.
The Superman Pose
Lie face down. Raise one arm off the ground and hold for 20-30 seconds. Release and raise the other arm. Then move to your legs; hold one leg at a time off the ground. Then, try holding an alternate leg and arm off the ground at the same time. Then, try both arms up at one time and then both legs at one time. The most advanced version is holding both arms and legs off the ground at one time; hence the name Superman Pose. Hold each of these poses for 20 to 30 seconds, relax, and repeat.
Lie on your back, knees bent and bring your chest towards your knees. Keep your shoulders back and chin up. Repeat.
Abdominal Crunches with a Twist and/or Bicycle Legs
Do the abdominal crunches as stated above but include a Twist to work the oblique muscles. Keep knees bent, feet on the ground. Bring shoulder to opposite knee for a twisting motion. Another version is the bicycle, which is knees bent, feet off the ground and bring opposite should to knee at the same time, alternating legs to elbows.
Susan Paul has coached more than 2000 runners and is an exercise physiologist.