I think we can all agree that core stability has become one of the most confusing misunderstood components of runners’ conditioning. Ask 10 different runners what they do for their “core stability” and you’ll get 10 different answers that encompass all the latest fads, gizmos and gadgets. Core Stability has been popular in the fitness world for a while now; there is a perception that if we strengthen these muscles we will become injury free, faster and, it seem,s all round better individuals.
While trunk conditioning is important if you’ve had a history of injures related to a weakness of the trunk, it is simply not important enough to dedicate whole sessions to it. Runners must focus on numerous muscle groups in a session including, hamstrings, quads, calves etc. Trunk training should simply be a component added into a whole body session.
Some of the most common misconceptions related to “core stability” that have been batted around include:
- The “core” includes the the “6-pack” and maybe some token work on the obliques. Lots of spinal flexion will almost certainly lead to back issues long term.
- Unstable training surfaces are superior. It is well established now that unstable training surfaces offer little benefit in core development when compared to efficient programming.
- A strong core means you’re not going to get injured. While a strong trunk can help avoid some injuries, it is by no means a get out physio free card. Careful attention must also be applied to vulnerable muscle groups associated with injury during running.
So with all that behind us what do endurance runners need to enhance their trunk conditioning?
Phase 1: Neutral Spine and Capacity
Initially endurance runners should focus on their ability to maintain a neutral spine; this is a basic fundamental that must be mastered before training can progress. To achieve this the individual must master the following exercises in order – careful attention should be paid by the personal trainer or coach to ensure key technical points are adhered to:
- Static Neutral Spine: front planks- side planks- advanced variations moving limbs
- Anti Flexion/ Extension Exercises: Front holds- side holds
- Ability to maintain neutral spine under: Hip hinge – glutei bridge- bilateral lunge patterns
Phase 2: Trunk Strength
Once the individual has mastered the ability to maintain a neutral spine we can progress the individual into a strength phase of development. The key here is to develop strength in all planes whilst mainintang the mechanics established in the earlier phase. If the individual struggles with strength training, it is best to regress the individual and spend longer in the neutral spine and capacity phase. The individual should progress through the following phases to develop trunk strength:
- Linear Isometrics: Rollout variations- leg raise variations
- Anti Rotation Movements: Pallof press- advanced variations of the Pallof using different body positions
- Force Transfer- Dead-lift- Front Squat- Power Clean- Snatch
Phase 3: Dynamic Activation
Whilst a strong core with good capacity is important during running, the individual is required to activate the core rapidly upon ground contact. This means the individual requires a phase of training that simulates rapid activation of trunk bracing. To do this we move the endurance runner through the following phases:
- Single plane medicine ball drills: Linear- horizontal
- Unpredictable core stability patterns: partner drills- push pull games
If we follow the above steps, keep the exercises simple and ensure excellent technique, we give the endurance runner the best environment to build a strong trunk.