Tuesday, March 14, 2017

What is core strength?

Anyone that knows me knows I've had my injury issues. Many different running injuries over quite a period of time.  Frustrating doesn't begin to describe it. 

With age the injury niggles have increased and I guess that as I am only going to get older I can look forward to more. But it doesn't have to be like this. Yes age or rather advancing years is the issue but only because of a failure on my part to do the other work necessary to stay fit. 

What's the secret? Who do I sell my soul to? 

What do I need to sacrifice at full moon to get this insight.

You don't need to do any of those things and the answer is probably something you know already and probably something you don't want to hear.

What's the secret? It's all about core. Sorry.

Like most runners my core routine would comprise a couple of 20 second planks a couple times a week. Ok, a couple times a month. Maybe less. I'd also add a little bit of regular foam rolling and some hockey ball massage. 

But core strength, that's different and takes effort. I actually think that most runners don't know what it is and don't know how to build it. I didn't. 

At one of my physio appointments it was described to me that people hang on their ligaments rather than use their muscles. You can see this everywhere. Poor posture; rounded backs, shoulders coming forwards, dropped hips. So many people are like this. It is the product of the lives we lead. We spend far too much time sitting, far too much time hunched over keyboards and smartphones. This is directly proportional to the lack of physical effort in our normal lives.   

To hold yourself properly when you're sat or moving takes muscle. Not eye popping bulging muscle we aren't talking Schwarzenegger here!!

To build the muscle required takes consistent effort and yet most runners given some time to train will opt for a run over anything else. Running got them fit in the first place so it will keep them fit. There's also the nagging doubt that if I don't run I'll lose fitness and my favourite, I'll put on weight if I strength train and it will make me slower. 

All wrong. 

But it doesn't address what is core fitness and how do you get it? For me it's been an interesting journey and taken some months. It's about consistency and doing the right things. It's not all lifting massive weights, it's not really about that at all.

Next time you run take a moment to asses your posture. You should be on the mid/front foot, leaning from the ankles your arms should be powering forward and importantly your heels should be coming up to your backside and your shoulders should be back. 
This video shows really well the correct posture for running 


If you cannot run like this then chances are it is strength that's the missing ingredient. 

For me it started through working with Martin at No Limit Fitness and assessing how bad my posture was. Years spent sat down at a desk tapping onto a computer keyboard take a toll. Shoulders come forward and roll. I also had little flexibility through my hips and no stability. Sure, I could run a long way but what sort of condition would I be in when I got there? 

This video shows this brilliantly!!

My strength training is 2-2.5hrs per week at the Trimnasium. It's been low weight. It's a mixture of functional movement and traditional weights. I've done more squats Iin the last 6 months than in my whole life previous. Yes I have put on some weight but it is the right sort of weight. 

My regimen includes some of the following on a regular basis, 
  • front squats
  • chest press
  • seated row
  • squats (with weights)
  • quad lifts
  • hamstring curls
  • lunges (both balanced and unbalanced*)
  • ball throws (throiwng and catching a weighted medicine ball off a wall)
  • deadlifts
  • floor exercise and stretching that focusses on the back, hamstrings, glutes and quads
  • kettlebell swings
*a 20kg bar across the shoulders with a 5kg weight on one side to unbalance and work the core more through a routine of lunges. 

Notice whats's missing from that list? There's no crunches in there at all. 

None of these exercises is with large weights either as this does not work with what you need to be a runner. What it's about is strength to be able run. 

The outcome of all this is still work in progress but the improvement to my injuries has been significant. My hips are getting stronger and I no longer 'hang on my ligaments'. I know I hold myself better, sometimes without realising and others very deliberately. Where i have the option I sit on stools with no backs so i can keep upright, engage my core and activate it. I am more aware than ever before and it shows. My shoulders are back, my back straighter and my hips are stronger than before. When i run i can feel my chest is more open and i run much more upright, initially this felt slower, it isn't it just feels different.

Core strength is something that everyone needs. If you want to continue running and run injury and niggle free then it is even more important than that. Set aside a couple of hours and get on with it! 

What are you waiting for?