When we think about getting faster, and staying injury free, we tend to focus on our leg- and foot-work. But to a large extent, your speed—and your predisposition to injury—has a lot to do with the strength of your core. Increasingly, research has shown that most common running woes—from shin splints to runner's knee and iliotibial-band syndrome—are the result of poor strength and control of the glute, abdominal, and hip muscles that constitute the core.
That's why it's important to engage the core any time you do any strength-training move. "Applying weight to your body will challenge your core further," says Jim White, a Virginia Beach-based nutrition expert and certified personal trainer.
Try this standard core routine, recommended by Jason Fitzgerald, a 2:39 marathoner and USATF-certified coach and founder of Strength Running, a Denver-based coaching service. Fitzgerald states, "it helps runners get stronger, improve their efficiency, and prevent injuries."
Plank focuses on multiple muscles that comprise the core region: abdominals, obliques, glutes, and lower back, Fitzgerald says. "All of these muscles help maintain a neutral pelvis while running, while the glutes provide power during the stride," he says.
Get in a pushup position, then prop your weight on your forearms and toes. Keep a straight line from your head to your feet and brace your abs to maintain a neutral position. Lift one leg and opposite arm so your thigh and arm are both parallel to the ground. Hold for 2-3 seconds, contracting your glute muscle, and return to the starting position. Switch sides.
This exercise builds abdominal strength, particularly in the lower abs, says Fitzgerald. It specifically strengthens the muscles to support your running, and it helps you maintain a neutral pelvis while running.
Lie on your back and hold one leg up in the air with your thigh perpendicular to your body and shin parallel to the ground. Hold the other leg 2-3 inches off the ground. Hold this position for 2-3 seconds and switch legs.
Keep your lower back is in a neutral position. You can put one hand in the small of your back to ensure your back neither presses down nor lifts up from your hand.
This exercise helps you develop hip stability and glute strength. "This is critical for keeping the entire leg stable during each stride," says Fitzgerald. "The glutes provide strength and power during the stride and also help maintain postural integrity."
Lie on your back with your one foot flat on the ground, and the other straight in front of you. Lift your hips by driving your heel into the ground and contracting your glutes so there is a straight line from the shoulders to the knees. Hold for 2-3 seconds, and repeat on the opposite leg, alternating for the exercise duration.