I have long been a strong believer in including regular core and flexibility in your training programme, both as a way to prevent injury through improved joint strength and mobility but also as a way to increase performance.
What is your Core?But what do we mean by core? When asked many will say that their core is their abdominals or six pack and while this is one element, we should extend our thinking up, down and around our body to also take in areas such as our hips, back and upper legs. Our core is the foundation of everything we do. It enables us to maintain a strong and stable platform off which power and ultimately speed can be delivered, primiarly through our legs and to a lesser extent our arms.
From an injury perspective, a strong core will help stabilise key joints reducing the stresses and strains as we push our limits in our chosen sports. This is especially important when talking about running, which places a significant load on the body and is a notorious cause of injury in athletes.
Having picked up various injuries myself over the years I’ve used a wide range of exercises for rehab, many which I still incorporate into my programme today as a preventative measure. Additionally following a double leg fracture and ankle dislocation a few years ago, I now have reduced flexibility in my right ankle which bio-mechanically puts extra load on my right leg and hips. For me, a targeted core programme is a great way to both improve the mobility of this joint and also strengthening those areas that are taking additional load as a result of the injury.
Gym or not?
The next question is whether to use body weight or incorporate weights into your core programme. Personally I prefer to focus on body weight exercises rather than the use of weights, with changes in position and introduction of tools such as the thera-band to increase the difficulty. This approach means I can do my programme anytime and anywhere, inside or out, at home or in a hotel room. The key is to keep it regular and the need for weights or gym would be a barrier to this for me. If you have weights at home or prefer to go to the gym, go for it! Just make sure the programme you are following is suitable for your ability and you also have appropriate training in how to use the weights or machines where applicable.
Get into the habit
With this kind of programme little and often trumps a longer session once a week everytime! The key is to form a habit and to aid with that I have developed a short set that I undertake daily and a longer extended set I try to do 2 or 3 times a week. When undisturbed I find I can get through the daily set in ten minutes and the longer set in forty to fifty. Altogether this makes around 2 hours of core work a week, which may sound a lot but is an area I find is definitely worth the focus and time.
So what are my sessions? Well I am constantly changing these, as I discover new exercises and also to introduce variety. Below are the sessions I am currently doing for those that may be interested:
- 350 Bicycle crunches (1×200 and 1×150)
- 100 Press ups (2 sets of 50)
- 50 Back crunches (2×25)
- Various yoga poses: Downward-facing Dog, Cat and Child (wide)
- 50 Squats (targetting quads and hamstrings)
- 50 Standing forward bends (targeting hamstrings and glutes)
Extended set (2–3 times per week)
As above but with addition of:
- Additional set of 150 bicycle crunches
- Additional set of 50 push-ups
- Lateral leg raises/Jane Fonda’s (2×30 each side)
- Clam shells (2×30 each side)
- Hip thrusts (2×25 each side)
- Side steps with thera-band (10×10 each way)
- Single leg squats (3×10 each leg)
- Hip hikes (100 each side)
- Calf raises (100, mix of single and double leg)
- Foam rolling – focus on ITB, glutes and hips
- 5 minutes plank (continuous but altering position every 30 seconds, including side planks)
These are sessions that I have developed for my specific needs and have built up to over time. While you are free to use them I would encourage you to have a think about the areas that you need to focus on and build your own tailored sessions from there.
Want to find out more?
There are loads of great resources out there on the web which provide excellent content, much of it free, which you can draw upon when developing your own plan. Two of my personal favourites are Kinetic Revolution and Strength Running, with the former including a free 30 day challenge programme which I would really encourage you to sign up for.
Below is a great video which is an excellent starting point for a run focussed core strength routine.
If you are still not sure where to start and are looking for maximum “bang for your buck”, then the good old plank is a great exercise to start with, utilising a wide range of muscles throughout your core in one simple exercise.
There is so much more we could discuss here, such as the use of Yoga, Pilates, running drills, foam rolling and resistance tools such as Thera-bands and TRX. These will be the subjects of future blog posts and for now I would just encourage you to put some time aside each week to specifically focus on core strength, start to injury proof your body and unlock the power from within!