When I was a teenager, my parents were always telling me to stand up straight. You see, I tended to slump. Being a typical teenager, I just thought they were nagging and I ignored them. Plus, it actually felt uncomfortable to stand up straight. So, I slumped. Wasn’t until many years later (when I saw a picture of my bad posture) that I decided to do something about it. This was around the same time that I had joined a local gym. I began to do crunches to strengthen my abs and I began to see my posture improve. I also began to see my endurance while running improve.
Ever have one of those “Ah-hahh!” moments? Took a while but I finally realized that the mid-section or “core” is the support for your entire body. A strong core provides good posture as well as a solid base for the rest of your body to do its job properly. When you run, the power your legs receive originates in your core and moves down to your legs. I initially thought working your abs was how you strengthened your core. It definitely plays a part, but you need to go beyond the abs to optimize your core strength. The goal shouldn’t be to have a 6- or 8-pack but to have a solid core. If you get a “pack” in the process that’s cool (I’m still waiting for mine, LOL!) but it shouldn't be the goal.
There are a lot more muscles than just the abdominals that make up the core. Core muscles consist of the muscles that run along the trunk and torso and generally include the following:
Rectus Abdominis—the "six-pack" muscles that everyone strives for Erector Spinae—three muscles that run from your neck to your lower back
Multifidus—found beneath the erector spinae
External Obliques—positioned on the side and front of the abdomen
Internal Obliques—found beneath the external obliques, running in the opposite direction
Transverse Abdominis—muscles that protect your spine and provide stability; found beneath the obliques
Hip Flexors—a group of muscles (psoas major, illiacus, rectus femoris, pectineus, and sartorius) found in front of the pelvis and upper thigh
Gluteus medius and minimus—found at the side of the hip
Gluteus maximus, hamstring group, piriformis—found at the back of the hip and upper thigh
Hip Adductors—found at medial thigh.
The great thing about building core strength, is that it doesn't take a lot of equipment. There are many exercises that involve no equipment such as crunches, plank exercises, push ups, V-sits, lunges, and squats. Others require basic equipment such as dumbells, a medicine ball, a ballance ball, and other equipement found at any gym. I recently purchased a medicne ball (8lbs.) and have begun to incorporate exercises using the ball into my weekly routine. The December 2008 issue of Men's Health has a great pull-out poster featuring 10 medicine ball exercises from the UNC Tarheel Basketball team training handbook. At first the exercises seem too simple, but the next day you'll discover just how effective the exercises are. Stick with it though and you'll start to see and feel the benefits of the work you're doing. Fitness guru, Mark Verstegen, has a book on building core strength, Core Performance, that I highly recommend. Blue Benadum also has a great routine for building core strength. It’s tough, but it’s good. Check it out at trainingbybluebenadum.com. For a core routine designed for runners try this plan from RunningPlanet.com.