The Core Of The Matter
Although mileage is most important to become a capable runner, core strength is a close second. A strong core—an area that basically runs from your belly button to the bottom of your glutes—helps in myriad ways. It keeps you supported and stable, which is especially important on longer runs. It helps preserve proper running form and tall posture when you fatigue. Although all movements don't originate from the core, it also connects the whole body and encourages all your parts to work together as a team. If your core is weak, something else—your hips, your knees, your upper back—will take the hit, and can leave you sidelined.
Here are three of the most effective ways to strengthen your core and your muscular team. Do them two to three times a week after an easier or shorter run:
1. Forward Plank: Get on all fours: either palms or forearms for your upper body and either knees or toes—no shame in knee planks. Form one straight line from the back of your head to the back of your knees or heels. (Read: Butt down!) Hold for up to one minute.
As you get stronger: Start on your toes; when your form wavers, drop to your knees to finish the minute. Once you can do that, lift one leg or arm off the floor, pause, then lift the other.
2. Hunting Dog: Resting on your knees and palms, engage your core and glutes and make sure your back stays long and stable. (If need be, place a light pole along your spine: It shouldn't move.) Extend your left leg and right arm so that they're both parallel to the floor. Lower then repeat on opposite side. Do 10 on each side.
As you get stronger: You can hold arm/leg for incrementally longer periods of time, provided your glutes are working, and your back isn't arched or in pain. If it is, keep it at a regular rhythm.
3. Bridge: Lie on your back with knees bent, feet resting on the floor. Squeezing your glutes, lift your hips off the floor to form a line from your knees to your chest, hold for five seconds, then lower. Work up to 10 reps. Note: Your glutes should be firing; if they're not, you're just straining your lower back and quads.
As you get stronger: Gradually increase the length of the holds until you can hold for 60 consecutive seconds. Then, march your feet in place while maintaining hip stability.
Sarah Bowen Shea and Dimity McDowell are the authors of Another Mother Runner and official contributors to runDisney.