The 2 Hardest Core Exercises for Runners
By Drew Seaver, NASM
Ask any fast or elite runner what it takes to be at their level of fitness and most of them will mention how there’s no secret; it simply takes years upon years of consistent training. That’s it. Stick to a routine and keep at it for a long time.
Sounds easy enough right? So why can’t everyone just do this? Well, there is one glaring problem: running injuries. Most runners stop running not because they are tired or sick of running, but because injuries have sidelined them. This is the truth.
But I don’t have time to run anymore.
I just lost interest in it.
I do crossfit/triathlons/golf/tennis/hiking now, it’s much more fun than running! I don’t miss running at all. Not one bit. Nope. Not me! I do not miss it. Not one bit. Stop looking at me funny. I don’t like running anymore! Please, please – you must believe me! I am telling you the-
–I don’t believe you. The reason you don’t run anymore is because something now HURTS when you try to run.
I say this because I know how great running feels when nothing hurts and I can not imagine any other reason why someone would quit this sport.
Running injuries destroy our passion and unfortunately take us away from the sport we love. We were never good at soccer. Golf is boring to us. Running is where we could shine. But when the injuries start adding up, it gets hard to even want to do that. No runner wants to stop running and every runner I know wants to be faster than he or she currently is.
How many of you have gone through an entire race, or even season, with some minor ache in the knee or shin, only to have that the primary focus of your brain? As any good runner will tell you, the ability to stay mentally focused is a key to success. With that nagging pain, that focus is impossible to achieve and goals will be hard to attain.
Runners: I feel your pain. I write articles here because I too was once a fallen runner. My desire is to help all of you in the way I have helped myself. To start this process, it is my belief that an intelligent core training program is paramount to any runner who wishes to attain his or her goals and not have those nagging pains or injuries sideline training.
One of the big reasons I think many runners do not do any core training is because there are simply too many exercises to choose from. Runners have a difficult time sifting through the endless online articles and books with hundreds upon hundreds of different core exercises. How many do we do? What kind? When?
I have written this article to simplify the life of the runner.
Stop doing all the other “core exercises” you do now and read.
I present to you, with descriptions of each one, the two hardest (and most important) core exercises for runners. All you need in order to perform these correctly is patience and focus. Get off that big BOSU ball, stop stretching your calves till they go numb, and please for the love of Bernard Lagat, stop using those machines that turn you into chair.
#1 Supine Brace.
When: Every day and especially before every run. For the runner with some pain, multiple times throughout the day. Yes, you read that correctly.
How: While laying on your back with your feet flat on the ground, focus on contracting your stomach muscles and glutes at the same time. Be careful not to rotate the hips while contracting the muscles.
Reps: A good starting place would be 2 sets of 10 reps. Hold each contraction for five seconds.
Why: This position, with the hips slightly flexed, is part of the running movement pattern and will help strength the stomach muscles, glutes, and hip flexors. The hip flexors are especially important as they help take the strain off of the quad muscles and ultimately knee pain. The hip flexors are largely responsible for lifting the leg up during the running pattern. From the repetitive stress of running, the hip flexors become tight and weakened. This exercise helps strengthen them.
#2 Supine Bridge.
When: Every single day and especially before running. Perform the supine brace first, then follow it with the bridge. For those in pain, multiple times per day will be necessary.
How: While laying on your back with your heels pushing through the ground and feet off the ground, contract your stomach muscles and glutes and lift your body up using your hips. While at the top, focus on keeping your stomach and glutes contracted.
Reps: Just like the supine brace, start with 2 sets of 10 reps. At the top of each bridge, hold contractions for five seconds.
Why: Hip extension is one of the first things lost during a running program. Unless you are a sprinter, distance runners very rarely get good hip extension during the running pattern. This lack of extension ultimately leads to overactive quad muscles, knee pain, achilles pain, shin pain, hip pain, and foot pain. This exercise really helps strengthen the glutes while stretching and lengthening the hip flexors.
Bonus (And Recommended): Wear a mini band around the legs just below the knees for greater affect. This will also allow for not only better hip extension strength, but now work on external hip rotation strength. How do I know runners lack this? Watch most runners in a road race and you will see that their knees cave in while landing. This can be avoided with increased hip external rotation strength, pulling the knee into it’s correct position.
Here’s where I will respond to the naysayers.
These are way too easy!
If you are performing these exercises and believe they are too EASY for you, my answer is the opposite of what you would expect:
If they are easy, it is because you are weak and some combination of too much sitting and running have caused you to lack adequate control over your central nervous system and thus the core musculature. The stronger and more efficient the runner, the HARDER these exercises become to perform. The runner who has greater control over his or her CNS will be able to fully contract the core muscles, thus increasing tension and making the exercise harder.
We should be doing squats and other full body exercises to strengthen our core!
Yes and no. This is where we must fight our egos, resist the temptation to do the “cool” exercises (and the dumb exercises), and use common sense. While I do believe runners should be progressing to more advanced exercises, I do not believe they can while running mileage. They would need to start from the bottom up, retrain the running pattern, and then we can talk about more advanced strength training. Not to mention if you can’t perform these exercises well, what makes you think you can perform more advanced versions of these? One step at a time.
As I stated above, all you need is patience and focus to perform these. If you lack either one of these traits, chances are that nagging pain you have will persist, and eventually all the focus and patience you once had for the sport you love will disappear, replaced by constant injury and a lower quality of life.
So please, for your sake, give these a try. I can promise you with confidence that ANY kind of running related pain you may have will feel better after trying these exercises every day for a couple of weeks.