Author Bio: Andrew is the founder and CEO at Aim Workout.
As a passionate fitness professional and triathlete, there is no adventure he won’t embark on. From mountain biking, deep sea diving, rock climbing and cycling to boxing and mixed martial arts, Andrew has a penchant for the wild and extreme.
Runners do not need to perform major strength training exercises several times a week to be able to run longer or faster. It makes no sense for them to be bench pressing or doing lat pulldowns, bicep curls, shoulder presses or any other strength and bodybuilding exercises because they have no carry over or effect on running form or endurance whatsoever. However, runners, irrespective of their speciality, whether it be marathons or shorter events, can benefit immensely from strengthening their core muscles and working on their balance.
Here is a list of a few core stability and performance enhancing exercises that will improve your endurance and stability so you run longer and harder with minimal risk of injury or fatigue.
The following exercises will improve lumbo-pelvic stability (or core), thus optimizing abdominal integrity, efficiency of movement and adequate absorption of ground impact forces. For the best results, one should perform the exercises 3-4 times a week and progress gradually as strength and balance builds from 1-2 sets of 15 reps to 3-4 sets of 15-20 reps for each exercise.
- Clam Shells
Clam shells activate and strengthen the gluteus medius and minimus muscles. The gluteus medius is a “hip abductor that moves the leg out to the side and plays a major role in controlling the sideways tilting of the pelvis” (https://runnersconnect.net/hip-strengthening-for-runners/). Strong glutes help improve athletic performance, injury prevention and help maintain weight among other benefits.
To perform clam shells, first lie down on a mat and get comfortable by lying on your side. Extend and place one arm under your head and keep the other on your side. Make sure that your torso, hips and extended arm are aligned in a straight line and that your back is neutral.
Now, with one leg on the ground lift your knee upwards and outwards. Remember to keep your hips stable and avoid any hip movement during the exercise. SImply lift the knee as far as is comfortable and return it to its normal position. Start with 2 sets of 10 reps on each side and move onto 3 sets of 15 reps over time.
- Hip Raises
Hip raises although simple are an extremely effective exercise that engage the entire stabilization, activating the transverse abdominus, glutes as well as the hamstrings.
For starters, tuck the hips and engage your transverse abdominus. This will allow you to lift your spine off the floor safely while maintaining a neutral spine position. Next use your glutes to raise your hips. This is important because unless you use your glutes, you won’t successfully activate the areas that are responsible for optimal running stability. Using your lower back instead of your glutes will only inhibit proper movement and limit progress with the exercise.
Once you reach top of the movement, squeeze your glutes and hold for 5-10 secs before lowering your body back to the ground. Do not drop your butt on the floor, but rather lower it gradually.
Start with 2 sets of 10 and progress to 3 sets of 15 reps.
- Runner Pulls
Standing runner pulls are a great exercise for improving core stability that mimics actual running form. By slowing down the movement and focusing on balance and core strength, one becomes aware of the mechanics of their running form as well as of the all the muscles involved in making the movement happen.
Although it’s possible to perform this exercise with a stretch cord, you’re better if you have access to a home gym with a high and low pulley system.
Stand tall with your weight on midfoot some distance from the pulley and grasp the pulley handle with your left hand. Now raise the left knee and balance on the opposite leg. Lean forward until your torso is close to parallel with the floor then pull and bring your knee back to the starting position while simultaneously twisting your torso toward your opposite leg.
Work your way up to 3 sets of 10-15 reps.
The plank is perhaps the all round best exercise for enhancing strength and stability in the entire lumbo-pelvic region. However, unless performed with proper technique and the prerequisite gradual progression, it could do more harm than good.
Most people end up using either extending their lower back to far to compensate for their lack of core stability or kick their butt up in the air and transfer weight to their shoulders and arms to avoid engaging their core because of the burn they feel. Well, folks it’s all about the burn. But, for starters you should work on form and engaging the right muscles.
To successfully perform the plank, you need to activate the transverse abdomimus and the core. You do this by maintaining a straight line from your head to your legs and squeezing your glutes (pretend you holding a card with your butt cheeks). You need to using the same muscles you feel when you’re laughing like a maniac.
Start by holding the plank for intervals of 10-20 secs and work up to 1-2 mins.
- Side Plank Knee to Chest
The Side Plank Knee to Chest is another great performance enhancing exercise for runners. However, you do need good core strength before you attempt this. Begin in a side plank and rest your shins on a balance ball. You’ll need to balance on one arm and your shins during the length of the exercise, so make sure you have good strength to be able to do this.
Drive you knee upwards towards your chest, while moving the same arm backwards as in proper running motion. The motion recruits the core, scapular stabilizers and muscles down the leg.
Perform 10-12 reps for 2 sets on either side and work your static holds up to 45secs-1m.