Core body muscular strength and stability is the foundation for healthy, successful, and enduring running and athletic performance. Our core muscles are essentially the musculature that supports our spine, torso, pelvic girdle, and hips. When we develop strength in our core muscles they provide a base of stability which enable our extremities to generate their highest maximal force or at least come close to their highest potential of what we are asking of them…RUN/PEDAL/SWIM FASTER, RUN/PEDAL/SWIM LONGER, RUN/PEDAL/SWIM STRONGER!
Hunched over, stride falling apart, shoulders raised, back pain bringing on visions of an imminent DNF, a guitar-string-tight IT Band causing a Quasimodo limp: all undesirable calamities resulting from poor stabilizing muscles. When the core stabilizers fatigue, your legs are called on for reinforcements, zapping much needed energy to propel you forward to finish your race or your run, cycle, or swim!
Still not making sense? The same principles ring true for swimmers, baseball pitchers, and golfers. Yes, they are using their arms and extremities to throw, swing, and pull themselves through the water but the core muscles are what transmit power through their kinetic chain. If you stand completely still and try to throw a ball without moving your body, just your arm, how far do you think that ball is going to go?
In addition to reducing overall fatigue during any athletic performance, strong stabilizing muscles have the potential to prevent or minimize injury. Again, if your core muscles are weak, especially your pelvic girdle and hips, your center of gravity begins to deviate with fatigue creating a need for more energy output from your legs and arms. Added stress and force is generated throughout your legs and back resulting in shin splints, knee pain, gait imbalances and overcompensations leading to IT Band irritation/inflammation, foot pain, and plantar fasciitis…the list goes on and on. In swimming, it’s your shoulders that take the brunt. In cycling, it is your back and neck.
There are numerous exercises and cross-training workouts to improve the strength of this area of your body. Yoga is a great practice and introduction into your training regimen if your goals are to improve your repertoire of core musculature and flexibility. During one specific yoga class last week, which just so happened to be focused on core strengthening poses, my instructor made a statement at the end of a class saying, "Having a sense of core strength opens the door to surrendering." Wow, that just opened a whole new direction of thinking in terms of the benefits of this core strength I continue to evangelize.
Training and racing are not "easy" tasks. Yes, they are fun and for the most part we engage in them because we are drawn to them in some way and have a passion for being active. But in our journey towards improving our fitness and strength, we face situations where our bodies are tired, our lungs are burning, and our mind is telling us, "Look you, idiot, I am pooped out, why are you making me do this! Give up NOW!" Really, give up just because something is uncomfortable--physical or situational?
I have found that many times in life a sense of physical strength somehow psychosomatically imbues a sense of mental and emotional strength and allows me to handle any type of challenging situation that I am faced with. In particular, yoga has taught me the discrepancy between surrendering and giving up. Surrendering does not mean giving up, but simply a letting go, a freeing of what we do not need in order to be the best person we can be. Surrendering to those burning lungs and tired legs (within rational reasoning, of course) and being present within the moment we find that the burning isn’t so bad after all.
As my Yogini friend, Ann puts it, "To be able to surrender, you are allowing something to be released. It is not giving up, it is simply letting go. This is true for poses that your body is not ready for or can’t do on a certain day, to bad run days, to relationships." In letting go, a futile battle between our mind telling us to stop or telling us that we suck because we may be having a bad run is overruled and that "bad day" turns into a day where you are just grateful to be out doing what you enjoy. All due to core strength? Maybe. But character and determination are undoubtedly, its side-kicks.
Be Well on Your Journey.