Like most runners I tend to ignore working on my core strength in favour of running. I know strengthening my core is important and I know why but I generally find it a chore and try to ignore it or get it over with as quickly as possible.
So why is core strength so important? The answer is actually really simple. A strong core will improve your running efficiency and reduce your risk of injury, especially as your training load – either intensity or volume – increases. You’ll be able to run faster and further. There are many articles scattered across the Internet about the benefits of core strength written by people far more qualified than I am (let’s call them experts), so I won’t go into any more detail. You’ll just have to trust me, read this, or find yourself an expert.
My core strength work to date has been sporadic at best, with brief periods of enthusiasm and long periods of sofa surfing. Generally this has been accompanied by the consumption of an industrial quantity of chocolate. A practice, I’m reliably informed by those aforementioned experts, that does not go hand in hand with a strong core. This has resulted in me having a high aerobic fitness, strong legs and a comparatively weak core. If I were a chocolate I’d have a soft centre. Like a caramel.
I think my main problem is that I don’t relish the thought of doing a core strength workout. I’m a runner because I love to run. I love to run outside. Spending time in the gym endlessly doing crunches just doesn’t float my boat. I’ve also discovered that crunches just aren’t the panacea that I first thought they were. So core strength workouts have always feels like a chore. I also tend to associate such workouts with slow, deliberate movements and a cautious approach as I’ve often used core strength workouts as part of my recovery from an injury. I have a negative association with core strength workouts because of this – it must mean I’m injured!
Those of you that have read about my training in January and February will know that I started the year injured and spent large parts of 2013 with a series of minor injuries. These injuries all resulted from mechanical issues due to a weakness in my core, and in particular my lower back and hips. I’m fed up with these injuries so its time to get serious about my core strength.
In getting serious I’ve searched high and low for a good core strength workout that I can build in to my weekly training. I’ve been looking for something that won’t feel like too much of a chore, so it needs to be:
Quick – I’m looking for a workout that doesn’t mean I have to spend a lot of time in the gym (or rather in the spare bedroom) and doesn’t get in the way of running.
Dynamic – rather than a series of slow, methodical movements that are, essentially, boring I want a workout that will make me sweat and increase my heart rate. I want my workout to feel like a workout.
Interesting – I suppose what I mean by this is that the workout needs to have some variety rather than repeating lots of the same exercise, so not hundreds of crunches.
The best workouts I’ve found so far are from Coach Jay Johnson. Jay Johnson was a member of 1998 varsity cross country team chronicled in one of my favourite running books, Running with the Buffaloes, by Chris Lear. Actually it’s one of my favourite books, not just one of my favourite running books. More importantly he’s also one of the experts I mentioned earlier.
All of Jay’s workouts are simple, quick, and have good instructional videos available either on Coach Jay’s Website or YouTube channel. I’m going to be using three workouts in particular to start with. I’ve posted links to the videos for the 3 workouts below each description.
Core X – The Core X is a 5 minute core workout consisting of 10 exercises of 30 seconds each. I plan to do 2 sets of this workout with a minute between each set after my steady training runs. I’ve been through the routine a few times and I love it. Actually, no, I hate it. I just hate it a lot less than anything else I’ve tried. It works my back and core, doesn’t include crunches, and definitely gets my heart pumping. If only it didn’t include the side plank….but then, I’m doing this to build strength in weaker areas, so it is probably a good thing the side plank is in there because I’m hopeless at it!
Back Routine – This routine focusses on the upper and lower back and takes 5 – 10 minutes. It isn’t the most dynamic or intense of workouts but it certainly works the back muscles. I plan to do this at 2 or 3 times a week as part of a strength workout that also incorporates some leg strength (more on this to come in another post).
MYRTL – Despite Jay explaining why this workout is called the MYRTL in his video I’m still not quite sure of the reason – apparently it rhymes with girdle (I said apparently!). Anyway this workout is aimed specifically at building strength and flexibility in the hips. I’ve tried it once and found it really tough, probably because my hips are my weakest area. I did, however, feel amazingly free afterwards. Worryingly I caught myself ‘shaking my thang’ whilst cooking the tea! I promptly reprimanded myself for such indiscretion. What would the neighbours think?