So it’s time to bust some myths!
- Your Core is not the same thing as your Abdominals! Your abdominal muscles are just part of your core, they, along with your Obliques, small stabilising low back muscles and your hip muscles make up the corset that provides you with core stability.
- Sit ups and plank will not necessarily give you a strong core! These exercises done well can activate some of the muscles needed for a strong core but not all of them. The small stabilising muscles of your lower back are often missed, these are very important muscles to train. Done incorrectly these exercises can be dangerous, they can put extra pressure on your low back, cause your hip flexors to tighten and therefore, make us walk like ducks!
As these pictures illustrate, our core is quite complicated. A delay in the activation of these muscles when moving around day to day can increase our likelihood of low back pain. Sitting at a desk regularly can cause our Multifidus muscle (which is one of the low back stabilising muscles) to waste, fill with fat and work less like a muscle. Pain and inflammation will also cause this muscle to stop working. As you can see these muscles form a corset, strong front to back but also deep down onto our pelvic floor. When contracting your pelvic floor muscles (which we did with the ‘zip tuck’ action) you create increased pressure in this core area which helps to stabilise the area. Strong core muscles = increased pressure = increased stability = less injury!
How do we Activate our core muscles?
Zip Tuck is the best way I know to get our deep core muscles working! This is an action that comes in two parts….
- Contract the muscles you would contract if you wanted to stop yourself going for a wee.
- Try and tighten the muscles just below your belly button, it should mean that your belly button moves in a little closer to your spine.
- Do this at the same time!!!!
- Now, you aren’t trying to crack a walnut here! Its great if you can do this and feel the change in tone of your abdomen and pelvis but sometimes less is more, make sure you can still breathe and you haven’t raised your shoulders or screwed up your face trying to get it done! J
What are the best exercises to get a strong core?
So to get a strong core Pilates is a great idea, there are lots of classes around and there is no doubt that it is good for most people! If you are trying to get a strong core for a particular activity then you don’t need to spend hours led on the floor practising Pilates you need to do your desired activity with a strong core in mind, just like we did with the running drills. Don’t get me wrong specific exercises are still important but being strong led on your back doing exercises may not translate into strong whilst running.
Top exercises for a strong core while running!
- Heel toe roll – This is exaggerated walking, you push all the way up onto your tip toes on one foot and then roll through from the heel up onto your tip toes on the other foot and so on. Do this while holding zip tuck, while not falling sideways, do it slow and controlled. This will engage your core while also working muscles that will help prevent plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis and shin splints etc.
- High Knee walking – the same as the above exercise but when you push up onto your tip toes with one leg you also bring the other knee up to a 90 degree angle, roll through onto the other foot and raise the other knee etc. Zip tuck, slow and steady, strong and controlled. This will really work your hip muscles.
- Bottom kicks – on your toes if you can as the name suggests, kick back as close to your bottom as you can get. Hold your zip tuck, aim to be tall and strong. This will activate your hamstrings while lengthening your quads. Slow and controlled.
- Squats– Squats should be done slowly and carefully, actively pushing the outside of your feet into the floor and making sure knees don’t roll in,. Do 10-20 slow and steady, with zip tuck and feeling your glutes activate on the push back up to standing.
- Lunges – should be slow and steady, in a straight line, without knees rolling in. Zip tuck as you drop down into the lunge position.
- Glute bridges – glute bridges are great. Zip tuck, roll up one spinal segment at a time and hold, deep breath in, zip tuck and roll down. This will work the low back stabilising muscles and the Glutes.
My pet hate is rushed stretching, take your time, one or two exercises done properly is far better than 10 done badly. Use your breathing, relax into the position, not so far that you screw up your face! Take a deep breath in and on the out breathe see if you can relax further into the stretch.
These exercises are just a very brief introduction, I hope you enjoy trying them, please get in touch if you need any more info!!
All the best and happy running.
Lauren Manning BSc Hons Ost