We’ve heard over and over again about the importance of having a “strong core” for everything we do. It doesn’t matter if its rock-climbing, stand up paddle boarding, Pilates or golf, I think most of by now realize we can’t ignore our core.
I want to discuss why you, the runner needs a strong core especially with trail running as well as running on hilly courses and in triathlons.
First, lets make sure we define the “core” as the front AND back of our mid section. It’s too easy to ignore the posterior chain (back) muscles because we always think of the core as the “six-pack” abs. The main muscles in the back that I see de-activated (neurologically shut down) are the Quadratus Lumborum, Iliocostalis Lumborum and Multifidus. On the front or anterior side, the main players are the Rectus Abdominis, Oblique’s, and the Transverse Abdominis. Complete Anatomy has a great iPad app if you want to explore further.
Even though the core muscles fire with very low intensity when running, they play an important role in stabilizing the lumbar vertebra (lower spine – just above your hips). Every time we strike the ground with a foot we actually “brake” or slow down the body a little. This actually causes the lower lumbar vertebra to shift forward. Without stability in the back and front of the core, this motion can become excessive causing a shearing force, which increases joint motion in the spine and can have a cascading affect on tendons, ligaments and nerves.
The entire process described is exacerbated when we run downhill on trails and in races. Considering the increase in downhill half marathons options locally, I would strongly recommend you incorporate core training along with your regular distance training. If you’re getting back pain after downhill runs, stop by the Salt Lake Running Company for one of our monthly no-charge evaluations and we can quickly check the muscles involved.
Muscles weaknesses can also make you prone to injuries in areas completely removed from the primary weakness. Pay attention to what you’re feeling and don’t ignore things that are getting worse. I suggest you don’t run through pain, as there’s a strong possibly you can cause damage that will take significant time to repair.
The good news is that with a little re-directed effort, you can initiate a strength program in on 10-15 minutes per day. And most things can be done at home by just using your body weight so there’s no need for equipment except maybe a few bands some paper plates and a box to step up on. I don’t have space to review all the options here but we’ll try and get more information to you over the next few months if you post a request on our Facebook page.
Thanks for reading and I hope to see you out on the trails; smiling and pain free!