You may hate me for this, but I’m going to say it anyway. The best core workout for runners is one that strengthens the core in the specific ways it’s used for running: upright, weight-bearing, with coordinated movements of the abdomen/back, pelvis, and hip joints, not to mention everything above and below those areas as well. It involves balance, timing, and rhythm. In other words, it’s Latin dance.
If I’ve learned one thing about runners over my decade plus of professional practice, it’s that generally they dread dancing because they feel uncoordinated. That’s not every runner of course – perhaps you are a happy exception! I sure am, having worked for 13 years as a professional dancer prior to shifting over to a running-centric life.
However if you are the type who hates dancing and feels uncoordinated, being a runner doesn’t mean you have successfully escaped from caring about it. John Kiely’s great article The Running Machine Myth explains this very clearly, so take a moment to read that if you haven’t before.
Coordination isn’t a binary thing — it’s not that you either ARE or ARE NOT coordinated. What matters is that now and for the rest of your life you’ll continually give some attention to improving your coordination regardless of whether you consider yourself gifted in that department or not. It will pay off in a million ways.
So to help you out with that and give you a more functional, sports-specific core workout than what you’ve likely been doing, here is my favorite source for core training, neon lycra and all:
I discovered this workout shortly after giving birth and recognized it immediately as the thing that would get me back to moving easily. And indeed it did. In those early months with a preemie baby I could often only get out to run once a week but doing just a bit of the Core Rhythms DVDs a few times during the week meant that when I did run, I never felt stiff. Which is pretty remarkable.
The video above is a really basic intro with practically no choreography and only a few different moves, so give it a try and don’t judge yourself. Also — and this is really important! — don’t push yourself. Mastering a new movement means gradually learning which muscles to let go of as well as which to use, so don’t push yourself to make movements as large as these dancers, just do the size of movement that comes easily, try to get everything going in basically the right direction, and then as you get more used to it see if you can relax into it. Then the movements will get larger by themselves when you’re ready for them to.
The instructors sometimes say things like “push” and “tighten” but they’re in a fitness DVD and probably feel obligated to say those things. I doubt Latin dance instructors teach with those instructions. Just ignore them.
The final thing I want to call to your attention is that they talk as much about the ribcage as the pelvis. That’s very important and will make a big difference to your running, so be sure to pay attention to it.
This workout and other Latin-based ones like it (including the other ones from these same teachers) meet the sports-specific needs of runners superbly and will help you learn how to move your core the way it needs to move in running, strengthening your muscles and freeing up your hip joints remarkably.
So are you ready to dance? And five, and six, and five six seven eight…
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Jae Gruenke, GCFP, is a running technique expert and Feldenkrais Practitioner. Known as a “running form guru,” she is the Founder and CEO of The Balanced Runner™ in New York City and The Balanced Runner UK. She has helped runners from beginner to Olympian improve their form to become pain-free, economical, and fast.