As endurance athletes, we tend to focus heavily on training our cardiovascular systems. This system is certainly the most important for covering ground efficiently and quickly. However, we often lose focus of the need for a strong body, particularly a strong core. Unfortunately, most of us feel like our weekly routine of crunches and planks is good enough to get us there. These exercises do target your upper core, but did you know you have an upper core AND lower core?
Most injuries that I’ve seen as a coach and in the PT clinic are a result from weak hips. The hips are a very integral part of “the core”. Most people think “abs” when you talk about the “core work”, but the hips should not be over looked as a core stabilizer for the body. Most endurance sports are bi-pedal. This means you spend more time on one leg than two. This is true in running, skiing, and even cycling and swimming. The body needs to stabilize one side while the other side creates a propulsionary force.
Think of the mechanics of running. When one foot is on the ground, that half of the body is stabilized and can rest on the structure (bones of the body). Now, the side that is swinging through the gait cycle is in free space and has no structural support. In order to keep you moving forward rather than tipping over, the Glute Med (with some others) kicks in and holds the pelvis up and balances the weight. Abs and back extensors keep your torso straight rather than flopping from front to back.
What if you’re swimming? When you kick your leg against the water it’s going to want to create a force equal and opposite to that kick and send it in an equal and opposite direction (through the body). In order to keep your torso from turning and further torque into the arm swing, the internal rotators, external rotators, hip flexors and the Glute Min all play a roll.
How do you target the hips, exactly? Good question, I’m glad you asked! Most of your hip muscles are small, except for your Glute Max. This means that all you need to do are small movements, and usually without a lot of weight or resistance. Strengthen the hips with plyometric exercises and light resistance workouts. Don’t forget to work in all planes of motion! Flexion, extension, adduction, abduction.
Mix some of the following exercises into your routine to target lower core:
• Hip hikes
• Cossack Squats
• Single Leg Pistol Squats
• Hanging Leg Raises
HINT: If you want to make the exercise even more challenging, add an unstable surface once you’re ready for a little more neuromuscular and proprioceptive activation.
Now that you are paying attention to your lower core, don’t start neglecting your upper core! Like I mentioned before, most athletes do a great job with crunches and planks, but what about the back extensors? Obliques? Iliopsoas? Nope, those are usually forgone for the ab blast of 1000 crunches.
With all the rotational forces in the upper body during locomotion, it’s important to keep all your forces headed in the intended direction. Your upper core directs motion as much as stabilizes the body. Here are some great exercises to target the other important muscle groups:
• GHD Back Extensions
• Russian Twists
• Hanging Cross Leg Lifts
• Star Planks
Implementing these exercises into your routine will make you a more powerful endurance athlete by ensuring strength and balance in your upper and lower core. This is great advice for anyone, but particularly important for endurance athletes who depend on the stability for long durations of time.
Zac Marion has been focused on endurance sports for the last 6 years. What started off as a desire to lose some extra weight has spiraled into competing at an elite level as a Mountain Ultra Trail (MUT) runner. After losing close to 90lbs and having fun with marathons, he ran out of road and found the beauty of the trails in the Wasatch mountains. His excitable nature and desire to explore both the trails and his limits have led to winning races ranging from 50k to 100 miles across Utah, Colorado and Arizona.
His pursuits in a doctorate degree in physical therapy and an undergraduate focus on exercise science have shaped his biomechanical focus and his overall training knowledge and theory. He has trained athletes ranging from world-class elite to 5k beginners and produced results with all of them. The inspiration he draws from his athletes succeeding and reaching new limits is what fulfills his desires to coach.
Coming from southern and northern Utah, with few years in-between in California, he calls Salt Lake City his home and loves the access to the mountains. Originally brought here for school, Zac doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon. When he’s not racing, training or coaching then he’s probably got his face in a textbook prepping for an exam or up in the mountains living in his van, Large Marge.