When I recently went to see a physical therapist about my severe posterior tibial tendonitis, she said something pretty shocking at the end of our appointment.
“You have a pretty weak core, so you’ll need to work on that.”
As stupid as it may sound, I was slightly offended. I am well aware that I don’t have noteworthy abs (or just…you know…abs in general), but I do crunches! I do side bends! I can do a full toes-to-bar! Doesn’t that mean I have a strong core?
Turns out, not really. As the physical therapist went on to explain, any instability from a weak core would translate into poor form/alignment when I was running or working out in general. Actually, it’s kind of fascinating, because it speaks to something I love, which is the idea of the body working as a whole rather than a sum of parts. Your core being weak means that it’s unstable…which will affect how your hips align and move…which will affect how your knees align and move…which will affect how your ankles and feet align and move…which will affect how your feet hit the pavement…which will affect the force and how it is distributed back up through your joints…you get the picture. The bottom line is that poor running form and joints/tendons that are prone to injury are a bad combo. (See Exhibit A: Yours Truly.)
I decided to start specifically training my core 3x per week. It’s nothing crazy, usually taking no more than 15 minutes of my workout. Since up until last week I had not been running at all, I can’t really say how much of a difference it’s made in my running form. I definitely have not sprouted a 6-pack (or even a 2-pack), and I don’t expect that to see any significant ab definition from my new core training. What I have seen a difference in is my overall core strength and my posture. Whereas I thought I had a strong core before, now I realize that I was just good at the select exercises I was choosing to do. In reality, my overall core strength is moderate at best…which is why I will keep this up even after my tendon is fully healed.
So you see, a strong core is actually really important. But there are a couple things to remember about core work:
- Your core is not another word for “abs.” Abdominal muscles are part of your core, but so are your glutes, your internal and external obliques, your thoracolumbar fascia, your abductors/tensor fascia lata, and so on. Be sure to work the whole core! Choose movements that require your entire core to work together. Not just your rectus abdominis, not just your obliques, not just your transverse abdominis…the whole core. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re making an effort to include abs, sides, glutes, hips, and lower back, you should be doing pretty well.
- Incorporate isometric holds for the most functional core strength. Spinal flexion movements – such as traditional sit ups and crunches – will target your core (primarily abdominal muscles), but isometric holds tend to target more of the muscles that make up your core. More importantly, isometric movements (those in which you hold a static position) develop isometric strength, which is your core’s primary job – stability. Planks are a great example of an isometric hold, as well as all their variations (planks with toe taps, spiderman planks, knee-to-nose planks, T-roll planks, planks with a kick-through, and so on)…you can make it even spicier by incorporating sliding discs (like Valslides) so that stability is even more of a challenge. Hollow rock and L-seat holds are also favorites of mine, not to mention they’re much harder than they look.
- Put that core training to work by focusing on engaging your core muscles throughout the rest of your workout, and even throughout the day. Take note of various movements that require some effort from your core muscles, and see if you are engaging your core in those instances or compensating somehow (momentum, shifting your balance, relying on other muscles, etc.). Try to let your core do its job…if you are like me, you might be surprised at how much you’re compensating for core weakness.
For those of you who may be looking to incorporate more core work into your training – or spice up the core training you’re already doing (what trendsetters) – I’ll be sharing one of my newest go-to core workouts tomorrow, so be sure to check back!
How often do you train your core?
Have you noticed a difference in your athletic performance (or just your posture) when your core strength is better?
What are some of your favorite moves for core work? –> I love sliding pikes (see demo here) and roll outs with an Olympic bar.