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  • Writer's pictureAl Painter Jr

Runners: 5 Must Do Core Strength Exercises and The Science Behind Them

If you read this blog, you know that you'll hear, and more importantly see, diagonal loading and anti-rotation movements. Its how our muscles fire when we move, so that's how I train my clients.

It is an incredibly simple approach to drastically improve the performance of a very complex system: the way your muscles move your bones. It would be hard to improve on "the way nature intended it" in regards to how we move.

The right side of your body is connected to the left half of your body diagonally. The front right directly affects the left back and vice versa. Any way you slice it, x marks the spot in the way we move.

With all of that said, I am incredibly fortunate to have a guest on the blog today whose got 29-years of experience seeing how the body moves, how to get it to do it better, and more importantly, how to put it back together after it breaks.

His name is Karl Kolbeck, PT, FAAOMPT from Rose City Physical Therapy in Portland, Oregon. I met him through Jenn Hellickson (AKA @kineticfix on Instagram) and he was amazing enough to write up something incredibly detailed about how a runner's body moves, and five ways to do it better.

He is both a Board Certified Sports Clinical Specialist as well as a Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. He knows his stuff inside and out and it is an absolute honor to have him on the blog.

So sit back, grab your favorite cup of caffeine (which is incredibly easy to find in Portland btw!) and get ready to learn some amazing fitness information.

Karl, the mic is yours...

Runner's Core Strength and Stability: Functional Integration through Movements In the physical therapy, strength and conditioning, coaching and personal training worlds over the past decade one can’t read an article nor scan social media and not be told how important the ‘core’ is. Some go as far as blaming a weak or “inactive” core on any and all lower extremity injuries. And if the core isn’t blamed, then it’s the glutes. Which, debatably, is part of the core.

Fact is, there is little quality evidence to support that core weakness has any statistically significant correlation to preventing lower extremity injury in runners. Or that a strengthening or core stability program will prevent injury. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Am I pontificating that strengthening the core is all for naught? Not at all.

Evidence supports that increasing core strength is imperative for running economy, efficient posture, and performance. 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 These are all parameters runners are focused on and strive for. Also, having solid core strength and stability is a pillar for overall strength for the rest of the body.

Twenty nine years of practice under my belt and having worked with runners of all ages and calibers - from the off-your-seat-and-on-your-feet couch to 5k-er, the weekend warrior, club runners, ultra runners and competitive runners from junior high through Team USA athletes representing the World Championships and Olympic games - there may be a few clinical pearls to afford you. Assimilation of research is vital to me as a medical provider and applying evidence-informed decisions paramount in my practice; whilst embracing each individual's unique circumstances and history as well as my clinical experience.

At Rose City Physical Therapy we subscribe to functional movement principles and utilize dynamic core engagement and strengthening strategies in my athletes sport specific activities rather than in static isolation. Sure, at times some isolated core exercises are necessary; however, seldom I find this the case with an athlete who is tuned into their body. Most of the isolation and static core exercises (i.e. Transverse drawing in maneuvers, dead bugs, plank progressions) are saved for those less capable.

What is “The Core The core is a complex system composed of 29 muscles! Think of the core like a soda can. A cylinder (the torso), a bottom (the pelvic floor) and a top (the diaphragm).

When you open a can of soda and pressure is released, immediately the stability of that can is diminished and the can is more collapsible under load. Another analogy is a 5-gallon plastic utility bucket from the hardware store.

Secure the cover on the top of it and you have a sturdy system you can stand on. You can even turn it on its side and stand on it to balance, and it’ll not collapse.

When you remove the cover from the top, the bucket is destabilized and standing on it while lying on its side will prove to collapse it. It becomes an unstable system. These analogies shed light on the core from a fundamental perspective. Details of this entire system are beyond the scope of this article and become quite detailed.

From this fundamental perspective, the core’s main function is to prevent ‘anti-rotation’ system if you will. There is an ‘inner core’ and an ‘outer core’.

The inner core consists of smaller deeper muscles with a primary function of stabilizing the spine and torso. Included in the inner core are the pelvic floor muscles and the diaphragm; both very important to overall core function.

The outer core consists of larger muscles which act more as prime movers and dynamic stabilizers….the rectus abdominis (6-pack), the lats, the glutes, the hip adductors (groin muscles) and lumbar paraspinals are some of the major outer core muscles.

Functional Slings: The Anterior and Posterior Oblique Systems and the Deep Longitudinal System Key to my practice is incorporating functional movement related strength and stability exercises to foster core stability under simulated sport specific activity. To do this effectivity, a working knowledge of the oblique and longitudinal systems is necessary. The Anterior Oblique System (Sling) includes the external oblique on one side of the body, and the contralateral (opposite side) internal oblique, hip adductors (groin muscles) and hip external rotators. The anterior oblique system stabilizes the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex during reciprocal arm and leg movements - imperative in running - as well as generates rotational forces about the body...or more functionally, eccentrically controls over-rotation (anti-rotation) during reciprocal arm and leg swing. As contraction of these muscles takes place a compressive load also occurs across the anterior pelvis at the pubic symphysis and assists in stabilizing the pelvis.

(Click here to head over the Rose City PT Instagram account to see what the Anterior Oblique System (Sling) looks like!)

The Posterior Oblique System (Sling) includes the gluteus maximus (‘glute max’) on one side of the body and the contralateral latissimus dorsi (‘lat’), as well as the thoracolumbar fascia (‘TLF’) as it spans across the low back from one side to the other. Both the glute max and lat have strong attachment to the TLF, which itself has a direct attachment to the sacrum.

(Click here to head over the Rose City PT Instagram account to see what the Posterior Oblique System (Sling) looks like!)

The Deep Longitudinal System (Sling) includes the erector spinae and multifidus muscles of the spine, the TLF, sacrotuberous ligament (a SI joint stabilizing ligament) and hamstrings-some specifically define the bicep femoris head of the hamstring complex. This sling does not cross the centerline of the body but is located on one side.

The deep longitudinal system optimizes function in the sagittal plane-leg and arm swing front to back. It, like the other systems, is crucial for lumbo-pelvic-hip stabilization, load transfer across the SI joint, and propulsion of the lower extremity into terminal stance (toe-off).

(Click here to head over the Rose City PT Instagram account to see what the Deep Longitudinal System (Sling) looks like!) EXERCISES: Functional Core Strength and Stability Training

With a working knowledge of the functional sling systems of the body, exercises that use these systems become relevant to the running athlete. Clinically, from a rehab perspective when managing an athlete dealing with injury I’ll often break down functional exercises into one or two isolated components if the athlete is having difficulty with full integration. This is more often the case when dealing with an injured athlete.

Below are illustrations of my top-5 core strengthening and stabilization exercises for the runner incorporated into functional movement patterns using the sling systems. Some of the exercises are either Anterior or Posterior Oblique Sling specific; some incorporate all slings within the given exercise.

1) Runners Core: Dual-cable Pull-Push with High Knee March

This core exercise engages core anti-rotation function and works both the Left Posterior and Right Anterior Oblique, and Right Posterior Longitudinal Slings.

2) Runners Core: 3D-Strap anti-rotation with Right Knee Drive

This core anti-rotation stabilization exercises engages the Left Anterior and Right Posterior Oblique, and Left Posterior Longitudinal Slings

3) Runners Core: Medicine ball b Chop with Hip ADDuction Load

Core anti-rotation with hip ADDuction load working the Left Anterior and Right Posterior Oblique Slings

4) Runners Core: Single leg RDL with Left Knee Drive

Single leg stance left knee drive and left power band pull facilitating anti-rotation function of the core and the Right Anterior and Left Posterior Oblique, and Right Posterior Longitudinal Slings.

5) Runners Core: Palloff Press with Left Knee Drive

Single leg stance Palloff Press with power band press demanding anti-rotation core stability and facilitating the Right Anterior and Left Posterior Oblique, and Right Posterior Longitudinal Slings.

If you'd like to see more videos like the ones above, click here to head over to the Rose City Physical Therapy YouTube Channel. Thanks a ton for reading, have an amazing day!

References: 1) Strength and conditioning habits of competitive distance runners. Blagrove, RC, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2020 May.

2) Effects of pelvic and core strength training on high school cross-country race times. Clark, AW, et al. J Strength Cond Res. 2017 Aug.

3) A Randomized Study of a Strength Training Program to Prevent Injuries in Runners of the New York City Marathon. Toresdahl, BG. Sports Health. 2020 Jan/Feb.

4) Impaired Core Stability as a Risk Factor for the Development of Lower Extremity Overuse Injuries: A Prospective Cohort Study. De Blaiser C, et al. Am J Sports Med. 2019 Jun.

5) A 2-Year Prospective Cohort Study of Overuse Running Injuries: The Runners and Injury Longitudinal Study (TRAILS). Messier, SP, et al. Am J Sports Med. 2018 Jul.

6) Does Core Strength Training Influence Running Kinetics, Lower-Extremity Stability, and 5000-M Performance in Runners? K Sato, M Mokha. J Strength Cond Res. 2009 Jan.

7) Effects of 8-week Core Training on Core Endurance and Running Economy. Hung K, et al. PLoS One. 2019 Mar.

8) The Effects of Isolated and Integrated 'Core Stability' Training on Athletic Performance Measures: A Systematic Review. Casey A Reed, CA, et al. Sports Med. 2012 Aug

9) Explosive training and heavy weight training are effective for improving running economy in endurance athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Denadai BS, et al. Sports Med. 2017 Mar.

10) Effects of minimal dose of strength training on running performance in female recreational runners. Štohanzl M, et al. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2018 Sept.

11) Heavy strength training improves running and cycling performance following prolonged submaximal work in well-trained female athletes. Vikmoen O, et al. Physiol Rep. 2017 May.

12) Factors affecting running economy in trained distance runners. Saunders PU, et al. Sports Med. 2004 July.

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