Why a ‘stronger core’ for runners begins with the feet, not sit ups and planks.



      The majority of runners dislike the gym. Most just like to be outdoors running in the fresh air and that’s brilliant – in many ways it’s much better for you than being indoors under bright lights, breathing in everybody else’s germs. If a runner comes to me in the gym it’s because they believe that they just need a ‘stronger core’ (they usually mean abs) to make them a better runner.

What they don’t usually realise is that the ‘core’ is activated from the feet up. If your feet don’t engage properly with the ground then parts of your ‘core’ cannot be activated. For example, if your big toe is not pushing you off the ground correctly then your gluteal muscles will switch off and you will develop glute ‘amnesia’.

So it’s not enough to just strengthen the glutes (although this is usually important for everybody, not just runners) – it’s crucial to be able to connect the core to the feet. Runners who turn their feet out when running are not engaging this system properly as they will usually over-pronate, rolling over the big toe and will not be firing their glutes when running as required. There are many exercises we can use to re-establish this connection between feet and core.

So, you see, to do a whole load of sit ups or static planks or bike crunches, may make you feel like you’ve achieved a lot and will give you stronger abdominal muscles, but it doesn’t address the problem in any functional way for a runner, because they don’t start from the feet. Far better to do balance and stability type work- single leg stance exercises are great because in running you are never on both feet together but always have one or both feet in the air. So these are far more functional for running. 

Certainly a little more abdominal strength won’t go amiss usually, but it’s far more important to have mobility around the hips because most of us spend most of our lives sitting which is the real issue here. Because we sit, our glutes switch off and get weak. We also lack hip rotation usually, especially the internal rotation we require for running – again this can lead to the feet pointed out problem. Apart from this, we need core stability, not necessarily extra strength as such, so that the pelvis remains in a stable position as we move.

So while building stronger abdominals may contribute towards protecting your lower back from injury, if combined with postural awareness, this will not necessarily make you a better runner, nor provide the general injury proofing you might think.

When looking at a runner, I will always look first at the feet, both in static posture and gait. Inevitably, when somebody tells me that have had knee or back issues, I know I will find one or both feet pointed out before I even assess them and this will normally be accompanied by weak glutes, tight quads and adductors (all from sitting) and poor hip rotation.  So we start from the feet, ankles, Achilles, calves mechanism, then address the above problems relating to hip function. Only after that might we start thinking about strengthening the abdominals if the pelvis is tilting forwards and putting pressure on the lower back.

   So it’s about a lot more than just ‘building a stronger core’.

For a free assessment of how you can significantly improve your running by these means and many others please contact David now on 07504439555 or by email at info@roadstofreedom.net.



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