You’ve done the drills, read the articles and heard the coaches tell you that core strength is vital to maintaining good running form and that this helps you to run more efficiently, but what if I told you that these same drills could actually be making you SLOWER?
Historically, many different techniques have been used to strengthen the ‘core’ including flexion of the spine in a ‘curl’ type motion, or holding static postures such as the plank, but these work the core in a way that is different to what it is doing while you are running.
Muscle fibres are designed to resist two things; compression and stretching. They are also designed to return the muscle to its original length immediately afterwards, much like tennis players try to return to the centre of the court after each shot in order to be as ready as possible for the next one.
Running is a great example of when different groups of muscles are doing different jobs in order to create the whole action. In this situation, the leg muscles are resisting compressive forces and then using them to propel you forwards, and the ‘core’ muscles are resisting stretching forces (when your arms travel behind you) and then returning your trunk back to centre to help you stay balanced.
Great, but how does this make me slower?
Historically, many different techniques have been used to strengthen the ‘core’ including flexion of the spine in a ‘curl’ type motion, or holding static postures such as the plank, but these work the core in a way that is different to what it is doing while you are running. While this in itself is not a problem, the result is often that the muscle gets so used to doing the resistance work that it loses the ability to lengthen, or to return the muscle to its original position.
In our tennis example, the player would lose some of their ability to get back to the middle of the court which would likely result in them not moving so far to the side, shortening their working range whilst still being able to play. As you can imagine, this limits the effectiveness of that player.
But I still don’t get how this makes me slower?!
Watch this video to see what happens in running when your core is too tight, or even if you just ‘engage’ it whilst running.
Did you notice how the action changed entirely from a forwards/backwards motion with arms and legs, to sideways motion? This happened every time the core was engaged and then returned to the forwards/backwards motion when it released.
If your ‘core’ is tight enough to develop this side-to-side motion, you’ll be wasting energy fighting against it instead of being able to use that energy for running, therefore making you slower and making it feel harder.
Research has shown that a lack of arm swing in running creates a 67% increase in the forces the foot has to absorb from the ground, which essentially means that you land harder and are more at risk of lower leg injuries over time. It’s not likely that your core is so tight that you’re running like you’ve got your hands stuck in your pockets, but it may be tight enough to be causing increased stress through your legs.
So what can I do about it?
Try adapting a pec stretch so you can feel it in the side of your ribcage, you know the stretch I mean, putting your arm straight out behind you on a door frame and turning so you can feel a gentle stretch across your chest.
Let’s say you have your right arm behind you, to adapt the stretch keep your feet together and turn both of them to the left as far as necessary so that you also feel a gentle pull across your lower ribcage. Now let’s really ramp up the effectiveness by adding a gentle sway of your hip in whatever direction you fancy, I’m not talking hula dancing-type hip shaking here, just a barely noticeable movement from the hip. If it feels like you’re being torn in two, just ease back on the positioning slightly so that you feel you could just play with the movement.
Why not try the action in the video to see what’s happening with your running? Just sit on something high enough to let your legs dangle and then create the running action with your arms, letting your legs relax. If you’re too tight and your elbows flare out or move sideways, try the stretch for a few days then re-try the running action in the video, you might just be surprised at what you find!
Have any questions? Feel free to ask me anything using the comments box below.