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Saturday, February 17, 2007

About core strength for endurance athletes

This article is going to get me off-side with the strength and conditioning experts; but here goes.... Much is heard nowadays about "core strength". It appears that just about every sporting injury has the lack of core strength as a root cause and it seems every exercise programme must include a complex series of "core exercises" that are so difficult to do that the ongoing services of a personal trainer are required to do them safely. In the context of endurance sports like running and cycling, I believe the need for core strength is over-promoted to the point where it is detrimental to athletic performance.
Photo: Light weight, wiry strength and no bulk are key determinants of who wins

While an endurance athlete needs strong abs and back muscles, there is definitely no need for a thick "core" of trunk muscles that do nothing to improve forward propulsion and serve only to add excess weight that is an added strain to the heart and the legs.

What makes a middle and long distance runner, swimmer or cyclist faster is time spent doing the actual activity - time spent in the gym lifting weights or teetering on large balls for longer than about 30 minutes three times a week probably does not contribute to athletic performance. If the athlete has the time and the energy to spend longer in the gym then he or she is probably not doing enough of their "core" activity such as running.

My previous business partner (He was a nationally ranked runner with a 4min 01s mile PB) in the gym business and I were constantly bemused by all the hours spent by aspiring athletes doing advanced Swiss Ball exercises. It was a pity there was not an Olympic event for Swiss Balls!

Sure: Strong, mobile joints and muscles about the hips are essential for running and strength is needed about the trunk to maintain posture and to balance and transfer pushing, pulling and torsional forces between the upper and lower limbs. But it comes down to how much strength and bulk is needed and how it is developed and maintained. The best way to develop core strength that is sport-specific is resistance forms of the competition one is training for - so in kayaking, that might involve drills towing a bucket or sack; a runner may do hill bounds; a cyclist might do hill climbs -stomping a big gear and a swimmer might use hand paddles.

I have put together a guide for core exercises to develop core strength and good posture - exercises you do not neeed a university Degree to do safely. These exercises should require no more than about 30 minutes in the gym 3 times a week, including warm-up time. Any longer and you might be doing too much and you should be outside doing some real training!


Wayne said...

if i go tramping on a rough track i'll be doing all those exercises by default picking my way over ubstaclesa nd hauling myself up steep hills, bever is by body fat lower, my fitness better and my body stronger than when i tramp regularly

Wayne said...

and theres no better picture to display of a well conditioned athlete than the one you have displayed here of Mirits yifter aka (yifter the shifter), here pictured on his way to an olympic gold medal in moscow in 1980- at the ripe old age of 42, where he won both the 5 and 10,000 metres, because he would shit gear into a withering sprint no one could match a superb all round runner who won titles from the middle distance up to the 10,000 metres. he won nearly 90% of races he ran in, goes to show what we in the west would regard as someone who looks malnourished is nothing of the sort and in prime fitness. I regularly shave my head and someone accused me of looking like something out af schindlers list. however none of my workmates could match my work fitness evaluation !