TARGETING THE CORE OF THE MATTER!
(This is the first in a series of articles on strength training exercises)
Running is a great cardiovascular (aerobic) exercise which raises your heart rate, increases circulation, and burns fat. According to a 2020 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, about 15% of the US population regularly participates in some form of running or jogging activity. Kudos to you for taking an active role in maintaining your good health, you’re in the top 15%! But why settle for a ‘B+’ when you can shoot for an ‘A’ or even an ‘A+’ score? In addition to running, runners also need strength training exercises to build lean muscles and tone the body. Running will get you in good shape, but strength training will get you in great shape! Every exercise training programs for runners incorporate both types of exercises, as well as cross-training activities such as cycling or swimming. Yet despite this, many new runners (as well as a few seasoned weekend recreational runners) neglect or ignore strength training, and this can lead to sports injuries. Running is FUN! Getting hurt is NOT!
One of the most neglected sections of the body that most new runners overlook is your core, or midsection. You engage your abdominal muscles when running, so strong core muscles are key to getting faster running times. One of the best exercises to strengthen your core is ‘the plank’.
What is a plank, and how is it different from a push-up?
The plank is a distant cousin of the push-up and both share a very similar form. There are noticeable differences between the two regarding arm position and movement. As a result, different muscles are worked. While the push-up strengthens the chest and shoulders , the plank is an abdominal exercise that targets both your core and lower back muscles. Push-ups will not help your core, but the plank will! Together these two similar exercises will help you build a strong body so let’s compare and contrast the two.
To do a proper push up, you get down on all fours with your hands placed slightly wider than your shoulders. Your head, back, and legs should be perfectly aligned. Eyes should be looking straight ahead, not staring at the floor. Bend your elbows and lower your body until your chest almost touches the ground.
Pause a second then push yourself back up to the starting position. Repeat for as many reps as you are capable of.
STANDARD VARIATION PLANK
To do a proper plank, your elbows are directly under your shoulders and your forearms are facing forward. Once again your head, back, and legs should be perfectly aligned, and you should be looking at the floor. The goal is to hold this position rigidly for 30 to 60 seconds with no sagging, arching or drooping. You are only engaging your core abdominal muscles if and only if you are in proper planking position. The moment your stomach droops to the ground, your hips sag, or your back arches up, you are no longer receiving the benefits of the exercise. Perfect alignment from head to toes is key!
SIDE VARIATION PLANK
Instead of facing the floor, you are propped on one forearm on your side looking off to the side. In this position you can work your non-planking arm or leg by raising them towards the sky, and you can work your core by doing a slight dip towards the ground, followed by a raise and hold. Always remember to work both sides equally when using this variation.
SUPERMAN- The plank from another planet.
Look! Up in the sky! No, never mind you’re lying perfectly flat on the ground for this one. If you can’t do THIS exercise, it’s time to hang up your cape for good. Your arms should be fully extended in front of you, and your toes are pointed back behind you. This is the classic Superman pose as the comic book superhero would fly through the sky, and that is why the exercise is named what it is. Sounds a lot better than a floor plank, huh?
The ONLY movement you are going to make is to simultaneously lift your arms and legs off the ground and hold the position for 30-60 seconds. Then lower and repeat for as many reps as you can. This will work both your lower back and abs while engaging your core. Plus you get to brag to all your non-exercising, couch potato friends that you were exercising like Superman! Now go and build up those abs of steel!
You can find me at these upcoming races:
Crappy Year 5k November 20 @ 10:00 am Union Twp. Park Birdsboro PA
Flippin Fun 5k Turkey Run November 25 @ 9:00 am Wyomissing, PA
Be sure to check back on November 14th for another article.
As always, I wish you success and happiness!