The term "core work" often conjures up images of chiseled, six-pack abs and sweat-soaked gym rats pumping iron. For runners, however, the term should be interpreted a lot more broadly. To be sure, strong abs are great, but there is a long list of other core muscles that play even bigger roles in keeping you healthy and running strong.
The core includes muscles of the pelvis and lower trunk, such as the hamstrings, glutes, lower back, hips and obliques. Strengthening these muscles can assist in everything from better form to injury prevention to increased performance.
"A runner's core is like a tree's trunk," explains Erica Gratton, a USA Track and Field and Road Runners Club of America certified coach in Thousand Oaks, California. "It is your anchor, your stabilizer."
Research Proves the Benefits of Core Work
Increased core strength fortifies your kinetic chain, and increases running efficiency and overall athleticism.
One of the biggest benefits garnered from doing core work is a more economical running form that you can maintain when running at faster speeds and for longer periods of time.
When you have weaknesses in areas like you hips and glutes, your entire form falls apart when you begin to fatigue. One of the most common signs of the connection between weakness and poor form is the classic hip drop: When you plant your left foot, rather than keeping your midsection balanced and aligned, the right hip drops downwards at an angle. This tilting of the pelvis is not only inefficient, but it can also be injurious.
Weak hips have been tied to everything from runner's knee to IT band syndrome. One study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise looked at 120 collegiate athletes, assessing various measures of core strength before their season began. In the end, weakness in the hips was tied to injuries, leading researchers to conclude: "Core stability has an important role in injury prevention."