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Posted: April 21, 2012  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this Share

Leah Larocque's Column
Leah Larocque is a graduate of Queen's University (2011) in Kingston, Ontario where she ran track and cross-country. She was Ottawa's "Road Racer Of The Year" for 2010 and 2011. She has a personal best time of 17:32.9 which she set while winning the Ottawa Race Weekend 5K in 2011.
In 2010 she was the first local finisher in Emilie's Run leading the OAC Racing Team to a first place in the team competition.

Leah is currently a Publications and Communications Assistant with the Ottawa Senators. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web. She is continuing to run and will be writing a regular column for the Runner's Web.(Column Index)

Athletics: Core Training

Often when I go to the gym, I see body builders crunching away on their abs muscles. I try to act all professional by doing my own version of crunches and abdominal exercises in hopes of creating that coveted six-pack. However, it wasn't until I started to go to yoga with my mom that my abs started to really get a workout. The teacher kept referring to my stomach area not as my abs, but as my core- like the centre and trunk of a pillar. She explains that simple crunches don't often do anything or really benefit stability and "core strength." Exercises like the plank or push-ups are what are really going to give you those rock hard abs. So, I have tried to be a bit disciplined in doing my core exercises either before or after my runs. I have not noticed any "definition" per say, but I do stand taller and I don't slouched as much anymore either.

Core training has become a term used more and more frequently by personal trainers and the media. But what exactly does it mean? Do runners actually have to take it seriously? For runners, it is important to have a strong "core" not only to look good while crossing the finish line, but it may help you get to that finish line faster. Almost every single coach that I have had has told me that I run with chicken wings. All that energy is going sideways when I am trying to go straight. If my core was stronger, I could eliminate that useless motion.

The core is made up of the deep muscles that support and stabilize your torso and lower back. It's a lot more than just your abs. Core muscle include the deep muscles of your torso, the transverse abdominis in particular, a big sheet-like muscle that wraps from one side of the spine, around the front of your body and attaches to the other side.

I have lately been reading a lot of experts who say that by improving my core my efficiency when I run will improve and I can prevent future injuries. By improving core strength a runner could run for longer without suffering from fatigue and will also decrease a risk of suffering an injury. Some good news is that core training doesn't have to involve heavy weight work, but it does require some time and effort.

We runners tend to focus on activities that we think will benefit directly our times and performances. For example, running more kilometers or more hills. But a lot more coaches are coming out and suggesting that an athlete look at their running in broader terms, by balancing strength, endurance, and flexibility training. Although the benefits are less observable and take more time- the gains are noteworthy.

When a runner tries to run faster by extending their stride, the lower abs-including the transversus and rectus abdominis-and lower back ignite. It just makes sense then that the stronger and more stable those muscles are, more force and speed can be generated. A strong lower abs and lower-back muscles, such as the erector spinae, can really help you make that last push to the finish line in a race. If your core is weak, you may end up shuffling, slouching, and putting too much stress on your hips, knees, and shins.

Some direct benefits of core strength include improved balance better posture (core muscles play a key role in improving posture, which in turn improves technique), improved efficiency (comfort in your stride and efficiency which will allow you to increase your endurance potential), and increased stability (a unwavering frame means less wear-and-tear on muscles).

To improve your core you should incorporate an individualized core routine. For example, programs will vary from runner to runner, but a good coach (or intense yoga class!) can set you down the right path.

In my opinion, yoga or Pilates is the ultimate way to improve your core. It works on not only your balance, flexibility, and strength- but it works your core "to the core!" Many of the moves require holding your torso in place while moving all your limbs in unusual directions. You can definitely work on your core at a gym or with a personal fitness trainer, because they can identify exercises for target specific muscle groups and will set you a custom program. But it's not necessary. You can do your own exercises yourself on the floor. A lot of experts highly recommend floor exercises because they are simply and once you know the right moves you can do them whenever you want in the privacy of your home.

Tim Hilden, an exercise physiologist specializing in running mechanics at the Boulder Center for Sports Medicine in Colorado says that weak core muscles really affect your running mechanics. "You'll see too much unwanted movement, which decreases performance or sets you up for injury."

A weak core can affect your back. When you run a lot on pavement, much of the force is absorbed by your vertebrae. If your core is weak, the shock is felt even more and will cause your back to be really sore. As your legs pound the pavement, your vertebrae absorb much of the force. That shock worsens if your core is weak, which will produce lower-back pain. Also, when sore areas of the body are weak, other muscles are forced to compensate. For example, your hamstrings will take much of the burden and will make then tight, shorter, and vulnerable. And finally, there are a lot of runners out there who suffer from "runner's knee." This might be linked to a weak core. Without a stable core, you can't control the movement of your torso as well, and you risk putting excess force on your joints each time your foot lands. Patellar tendinitis and iliotibial-band tendinitis can also occur.

So with all this research and offers to go to yoga class I know that I need to be more disciplined with my core. The only issue is staying regular and consistent. Make it part of your daily routine. After all- beach season is on its way and we all know that with that comes bikini time. And, pardon the pun, but I can't help it, if you miss a "week" of core, it will make your running "weak."

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