Core Strengthening to Prepare for the Fall Running Season

Core Strengthening to Prepare for the Fall Running Season

October 7, 2023

Happy Fall! With the Sleepy Hollow 10k, the NYC Marathon, and the Trudy Dunbar Memorial 5K Turkey Trot right around the corner, getting your legs in shape might be on your mind. But did you know that getting your core strong and functional is actually one of the most important things you can do as a runner? Yeah, I know, no one likes core strengthening – but the payoffs in injury prevention, strength, and speed are worth the effort.

What is your core?

We use the term “core” to identify a group of muscles that are primarily responsible for stabilizing your lower torso, spine, and pelvis. Your core includes muscles quite deep in our bodies close to the center and close to the spine: the abdominals, the pelvic floor muscles, the diaphragm (our primary breathing muscle), and a number of muscles in the back and hips make a 3-dimensional corset to stabilize us from the inside out. When these muscles are strong – and coordinated! – they help to stabilize our trunk, facilitate good and efficient breathing, and provide a foundation on which we can move our limbs.

Why does a strong core matter?

Having a stable and strong core is one of the most important things you can do to prevent injury as a runner. This is because when working from a stable center there is less excessive strain placed onto other joints and muscles in your body. For example, when your hips are working only to propel you forward, and not also to recover from a side to side wobble through your whole body on every single step, the muscles in your hips and legs don’t have to do as much work, so they don’t fatigue as quickly and your joints don’t have to absorb as much sheering force, keeping them more comfortable, too.

How do I strengthen my core?

In my work as a Physical Therapist (who’s a little bit obsessive about biomechanics and soft tissue function) I like to differentiate between strength and coordinated strength. Having strength in a muscle group is good – but if those muscles don’t know when to turn on and off all the work of your training might not translate into safer, faster, or more comfortable running. The deepest of our core muscles, the multifidi, pelvic floor, and Transverse Abdominus are designed to turn on just a microsecond before all the muscles in our legs start working so that we are moving from a stable center. This order of operations is why we start core strengthening programs with basics such as dead bugs and static planks and then progress into more dynamic and functional movements like mountain climbers and single leg toe touches.

Here’s one example of a progressive core strengthening series. We specialize in designing personalized injury prevention protocols and helping you with recovery routines in addition to working on acute and chronic injury rehabilitation to improve your comfort and performance.

Sample Progressive Core Strengthening Series

Week 1

  • Dead bugs: 3 x 10
  • Plank (on knees): 3 x 30 seconds
  • Pilates “Hundred”: 10 x 10

Week 2-3

  • Plank (on balls of feet): 3 x 30 seconds
  • Side plank: 2 x 30 seconds
  • Single leg lowering: 2 x 20
  • Split leg bridges: 2 x 15

Week 4-5

  • Plank on Bosu or Swiss ball: 4 x 30 seconds
  • Side plank with leg raise: 2 x 10
  • Legs down: 3 x 10
  • Adductor squeeze bridge kicks: 2 x 20
  • Step back lunges – slow speed: 20 per side

Weeks 6-8

  • Swiss ball pike ups: 3 x 8
  • Mountain climbers: 20 per side
  • Single leg toe touches: 2 x 15
  • Plyometric lunges: 2 x 10 per side

Core strength isn’t just for runners – there’s not a single movement we do that isn’t supposed to incorporate some muscle activation of our core muscle group – so if you’re learning pickleball, getting ready for ski season, or lifting babies in and out of cribs, strengthening your core might be a good addition to your routine. If you are just getting started with a strengthening routine, start slow, but stay consistent, even if those basic exercises feel boring. Remember that especially with core training, 5 or 10 of an exercise with good form is more useful than 20 with poor form! Check in with a physical therapist, your trainers, like the folks at Fit Inn, or coaches to guide you. Of course don’t start a new routine without knowing your body is ready for it – and if any new pain or injury does arise, get in touch with us, your physical therapist, or your doctor to help you figure out which aches and pains you can work around and what might require a change in your routine or a diagnostic evaluation.

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