Core Values

Leg strength and running economy depend intimately on the state of the torso, which is something no marathon runner should forget, writes JEN FEIGHERY

Photos: Donal Glackin

Think of a strong core and your probably imagining a washboard six-pack on the beach in summer. While this kind of toned abdominal may not be the usual aim for marathon runners, focusing on core strength is of utmost importance and results in many benefits.

When we talk about core, we mean the lower back and abdominal area, where around 30 separate muscles join the back, hips and stomach.

Your body is an entire functioning unit moving in a unified, flowing motion. The goal is to build a running core that allows muscles and joints to work at optimum level and in tandem. A strong core improves running posture and speed. What many runners fail to realise is that limb strength is intimately connected to torso strength. Your arms and legs stem from your core; therefore a strong core sets a solid foundation for strength in the entire body.

A stable torso is key for every marathon runner because it keeps you upright as you tire. It allows pelvis, hips and lower back work together more smoothly, which in turn improves overall running economy. Being able to run efficiently for a long time is essential for every marathon runner.

Core strength significantly improves balance, helping the body recover quickly from impact with uneven surfaces.

Toward the end of a marathon, fatigue is inevitable, and it is then that the body slows down and opens up to potential injury. Lumbago is a common complaint with runners during the latter half of marathons, and building up the core is key to maintaining good posture and staving off such discomfort.

Remember, as with all things connected to running, the key is to build up slowly. Set aside time for regular core strengthening. Here are five exercises to set you on your way.

MOUNTAIN CLIMBER

■ Get in the push-up position with arms directly under your shoulders. Contract your abs. Pull your right knee toward your right arm.

■ Extend your right leg back to the starting position and bring your left leg toward your left arm. Your feet touch the ground only at the starting position.

■ Do three sets of 20.

SUPERMAN WITH KNEE TUCK

■ Kneel on all fours, knees under hips and hands beneath shoulders. Maintain a small inward curve in your lower back throughout this exercise and keep both hips facing the ground.

■ Extend your right leg out behind your body, kneeling on the left leg.

■ Slowly raise your right heel up to buttock height, keeping your right toes pointed to the ground. Slowly raise your left arm out in front, keeping the bicep close to your ear. Once balanced, bring the left elbow in to meet the right knee. Push back out to starting position and repeat.

■ Do three sets of 15, left and right.

FRONT PLANK WITH LEG LIFT

■ Lie on your stomach with arms bent, palms and forearms on the ground, fingers pointed  forward, legs extended, and toes tucked under.

■ Work your back and abs by contracting your core muscles and slowly lifting your entire torso off the floor, keeping palms, forearms, and toes on the ground. Avoid arching your lower back, hiking your hips upward, or shrugging your shoulders.

■ Slowly raise one foot off the ground, maintaining a straight body, and hold. Change feet after 10 seconds

■ Hold ten seconds with right leg raised, ten seconds with left foot raised, and ten seconds with both feet on the ground.

SIDE PLANK

■ Lie on your side, in a straight line from head to foot, resting on a forearm with the elbow directly under the shoulder. With abdominals gently contracted, lift your hips off the floor, maintaining the line.

■ To advance the move (which is optional), raise one leg to hip height and hold. It’s important to keep your hips square and your neck in line with your spine.

■ Hold each side for 30 to 45 seconds and do four sets, two left and two right.

BOAT POSE WITH TOE TAPS

■ Sit with knees bent and together, feet slightly off the floor. Reach your arms forward and shift your weight onto your sit bones. Draw your abs in tight and lift your chest.

■ Straighten the legs as much as you can (forming a V shape with your body). Once balanced, flex your feet pointing away from you. Tap the ground with your right foot, keeping the left in the air. Return to the starting position and change foot.

■ Do three sets of 10 taps.

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