Running should NEVER be just about the legs. They’re fairly important components I grant you that, but all too frequently we are overlooking the muscles that help stabilise the pelvis and generate an elastic force condusive to controlled, effective and energy saving forward propulsion. Let’s be honest here, hand-on-heart, who just slings on their shoes and heads out for a run or a ride…..and that’s ignoring the warm-up too??!!
As mentioned previously, I will leave the technical industry jargon and associated mumbo-jumbo to those who wish to shower themselves in intellectual glory. This post is intended to be inclusive, realistic and should hopefully resonate with your own experiences.
We’re talking about the Obliques, or your tummy muscles. Their main purposes are concerned with flexion (forwards bending) of the spine, rotation of your trunk and stabilization of the pelvis. Put simply, what happens when you run is that your upper body rotates or twists in the opposite way to whichever leg is about to hit the ground next (left foot forward, right shoulder/arm/fist forward etc), your pelvis wants to lean left and right and your torso actually tries to lean back to balance out the forward lean of your pelvis. If all of these movements were allowed to happen unchecked and without stability and “core” training, you’ll be asking for trouble through injury.
I like pictures so here goes:
Trans Abs (often called your Core) which deal mainly with trunk rotation.
Internal Obliques which flex your spine and rotate you to the same side.
External Obliques which make you bend to the side, flex your spine forward and rotate your trunk in the opposite direction.
Rectus Abdominis which mainly gives you spine flexion with some opposite and same sided trunk rotation (and if trained hard enough will likely be shown to you by people who do “selfies” or something like that on Twitter…..they usually pout as well which is an odd thing to do).
Ok. I hope you now know what’s what and thank you to my Anatomy in Motion app for the images.
It can be successfully argued that poor conditioning to these muscles can lead to injuries such as Runner’s Knee, CMP (damage under your knee-cap normally by a mal-tracking of the patella itself), Piriformis Syndrome that can be misnamed as Sciatica merely because the pain in is your buttock, IT Band Syndrome, Adductor (groin) strains, Sacro-Illiac (base of your spine) joint aches, collapsed arches of your foot, shin splints, Achilles Tendinopathy…….it goes on and on; it’s a big list unfortunately.
So, why do we have a comparatively weak “Core” then? We use our core constantly as predominantly we move forwards! Not really rocket science there, but the vast majority of people are only walking and hence the muscles become used to walking; we also sit, ALOT. Sitting, as everyone does with most doing this this for more than 8 hours a day (I challenge you to say I’m wrong) is possibly the worst thing we could do to our body. What happens is that your tummy muscles start to switch off and add in to this equation the probability of working at a desk, the possibilities of back pain (causing you to do less), the effects of being pregnant etc and all-in-all, we turn ourselves into puddings with a seriously compromised ability to hold ourselves up. Ridiculous isn’t it!? When we try and take exercise, people usually start with a jog, the core is under-used, lazy, in a weakened state and therefore unable to provide the stability required for the “platform” that is the pelvis; if you hadn’t guessed already, the legs attach to the pelvis, so if the pelvis is unsteady, our legs have no chance.
Enough of the doom and gloom, what to do about it? To keep this blog from going on too long, you absolutely must look up these exercises and I strongly urge you to get cracking with them. If I may, a word of warning for everyone: Please PLEASE check that you are doing the exercises correctly as you could get injured and defeat the whole object of this. I’ve seen too many “bad backs” to not wish that on anyone, so it’s always worth it!
Russian Twists (with weights when you progress), Side Plank Twists, Side Plank Dips, Plank Twists (Hip focus), Bent Leg Obliques, “Windscreen Wipers” (I kid you not), Straight Leg Obliques, Crunches but please be careful of doing SIT-UP’s. “Sit-up’s” are mainly a flexion of the hip and use the hip flexors – if they go tight, you could get a bad back so DON’T get involved in any of these “30 day sit-up challenges” that seem to be doing the rounds.
So, hope this helps you and best get cracking straight away! If you’re a beginner and you want to try to minimise the risk of injury or if you’ve fallen in to the category of being a casual runner “but that’s all you do”, or even if you’re a more experienced and serious runner and for that matter, a triathlete who is “strong on the bike” and just hopes for the best on the run part (I’ve done that), then give these exercises a go and I promise you that you’ll notice a difference.
I can point you in the direction of some excellent Personal Trainers or group classes if you would like to go down that route. All comments welcome as ever.