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Runner’s Six Pack


Dawn Atlstatt, DPT, from Regions Hospital Rehabilitation offers some advice to keep your core strong through those summer runs.

Core strengthening should be an important component of any runner’s exercise, both for improving efficiency and for preventing injury.  Sometimes it’s hard to define what “core” is and what muscle groups make up this important part of your body. There are many exercises out there, so it helps to do the most effective ones. 

The core is a cylinder extending from the diaphragm to the pelvic floor with the abdominals and back extensors making up the body of the cylinder.  The gluteals and hip muscles also contribute to the bottom and back of this cylinder.  

During running, hip muscles stabilize the leg and pelvis both during swing phase and stance phase.   The deep abdominals and back extensors give the spine stiffness providing a strong and stable base for the legs to function upon.

Here are research supported exercises that you can get the most out of your time. Hence, my runner’s six pack. 

Bridge

This is a great exercise to activate hip, abdominal, spine and pelvic floor muscles.  Add an exhale as you lift and you will also get activation of your diaphragm. 

Beginners:

Lay on your back  with knees bent and arms at your side.  Pull belly in toward you spine, squeeze your buttocks and lift you hips until your back is straight but not hyper-extended.  Perform 2 sets of 15, three times per week

 

Advanced:

Lay on your back with knees bent and arms at your side.  Straighten one leg keeping thighs parallel and knees hip width apart.   Pull belly in toward you spine, squeeze your buttocks and lift you hips until your back is straight but not hyper-extended.  Keep thighs parallel and knees hip width apart as you lift and lower using the one planted leg.  Perform 2 sets of 15, three times per week.

Clamshell

Emphasizes the hip muscles especially the deep hip external rotators, which are responsible for keeping hip and knee in a healthy neutral position during running.

 

Beginners: 

Lay on your side with your shoulder, hip and knee in a line, feet placed behind you.  Pull belly in towards your spine and lift your top leg keeping your feet together.  Take care to rotate only through your hip, keeping trunk stable.  Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions, 3 times per week

 Advanced: 

Place a theraband around your thighs just above your knees.  Lift one foot off the ground, keeping your thigh in the same place. Pull your leg outward against the resistance, then slowly bring it back and repeat.  Keep your belly pulled and avoid rotating through your trunk.  Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions, 3 times per week

Hip Abductor Strengthening

These muscles are extremely important for keeping the pelvis and limbs in a stable neutral posture during stance. 

 

Beginners: 

Lay with your body flush against a wall, head supported on a pillow or your bicep.  Lift and lower your top leg keeping your heel against the wall.  Keep your top foot and hips pointed forward and abdominals drawn in to stabilize your trunk.  Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions, 3 times per week

 Advanced: 

Stand tall with band anchored on a stable object, in a door or with a small resistive band loop around your ankles.  Bring one leg out to the side while maintaining a neutral trunk and pelvis.  Movements should be relatively small and isolated to the hip.  Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions, 3 times per day

Plank Hold

This exercise works the deep abdominals and back muscles with emphasis on keeping the trunk stable and neutral, which is functional posturing required for running.  Adding hip movements against resistance as shown in the advanced exercise, requires additional activation of abdominals and back muscles but also causes co-contraction of hip muscles and pelvic floor!

 

Beginners: 

Start on hands and knees, find neutral spine (ear in line with shoulder in line with hip), straighten knees while maintaining neutral spine position.  Keep abdominals drawn in throughout entire hold time.   Perform three repetitions of 15-30 second holds, 3 times per week

 Advanced: 

Start on hands and knees with resistive band around ankles.  While maintaining neutral spine, straighten your knees.  Pull outward on band to engage hip muscles.  Hold this pull for 5 seconds, repeat this 10 times,  perform 3 sets of this, 3 times per week

Side Plank

This is an important exercise to work deep abdominal muscles, specifically transversus abdominus and obliques.  You also get really good co-contraction of hip muscles especially in the advancing version of this exercise.

 

Beginners: 

Start propped in elbow and either knees or ankles.  Pull belly in toward your side to activate deep abdominals, push and lift through shoulder and elbow.  Focus on keeping spine in neutral alignment.  Perform 3 sets of 15-30 second holds, three times per week

 Advanced: 

While holding side plank as described in beginning version, lift top leg up and down to perform leg raises.  Keep spine and hip in neutral; focus on maintaining a straight line from ear, shoulder to hip.  Perform 3 sets of 15 repetitions, 3 times per week

Bird Dog

Great exercise for co-contraction of abdominals and hip muscles.  Dynamic stability is greatly challenged with the addition of resistance in advancing version!  Add an exhale as you extend your arm and leg to activate diaphragm and pelvic floor musculature.

 

Beginners: 

Beginning: start on hands and knees, pull belly in toward spine to activate deep abdominals.  While maintaining neutral spine, extend one arm and the opposite leg.  Be sure not to hyerextend your spine and keep back hip square to the ground.  Alternate sides.  Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions, 3 times per week

 Advanced: 

Perform exercise as outlined in beginning version but use resistive band for additional challenge.  Holding one end of a resistive band in each hand, loop the band around one foot.  Lift this leg and opposite arm.  Maintain neutral hip and spine.  Perform 2 sets of 15 repetitions on each side before switching to other side, perform 3 times per week 

 

HealthPartners and TRIA joined forces to partner with Mom’s on the Run. As part of our partnership, our experts provide insight and advice for runners, as well as hosting educational events. 

Photos courtesy of www.medbridgeeducation.com and Regions Hospital Rehabilitation

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