Strength Training for Runners
Forget crunches. If you want to get faster, fitter, and stronger, you need to train your core like a runner.By Alyssa Shaffer From the February 2009 issue of Runner's World
A generation ago, you'd be hard-pressed to find elite runners paying attention to their abs. Today, it's practically mandatory. "Our coaches drill the importance of core conditioning into our heads," says world champion hurdler Lolo Jones. "We're at it all the time." That's because scientists and coaches now know that you can't run your best without a strong core, the muscles in your abdominals, lower back, and glutes. They provide the stability, power, and endurance that runners need for powering up hills, sprinting to the finish, and maintaining efficient form mile after mile. "When your core is strong, everything else will follow," says Greg McMillan, a running coach in Flagstaff, Arizona, who has worked with scores of elite and recreational runners. "It's the foundation for all of your movement, no matter what level of running you're doing."
The key is to train your core like a specialist. Experts have mapped out precisely how the movements of running draw on the strength and stability of the glutes, obliques, and ab muscles that lie deep beneath the six-pack. They've learned how essential it is for runners to engage these muscles to finish fast, reduce pain, and hang tough on long runs. Best of all, they've tailored workouts to help them do that.
All runners-from those rehabbing injuries to elites gunning for PRs-can benefit from this detailed approach. "When all the muscles involved in running are supported, and the muscles in the hips and trunk work together, you don't get as many injuries and can enjoy running more," says Phil Wharton, a musculoskeletal therapist and co-owner of Wharton Performance Group in New York and the Wharton Health Experience in Flagstaff.
Quality core work isn't easy. But it doesn't require more than 15 minutes a few times a week-an investment that will pay dividends on the road. Just ask Lolo Jones. Even in the off-season, she's working her core three times a week so that when she races, she'll have the stamina to retain her status as America's top hurdler. "When my core strength is at its peak," says Jones, "I can run more efficiently and maintain that extra edge.