Finding your Core
By Matt Fitzgerald, Active.com
Core conditioning is trendy these days, among runners as much as any other group. But even though we’re all talking about core conditioning, and some of us are actually doing it, many of us misunderstand its purpose and practice it incorrectly.
The most common misconception about core conditioning is that its main purpose is to strengthen the muscles of the trunk. In reality, developing strength is only a secondary purpose of core conditioning. Its primary objective is to teach you how to activate important stabilizing muscles and coordinate the use of these muscles with other muscles in sport-specific movements.
The reason this objective is so important is that most of us are unable to functionally activate some of our most important stabilizing muscles during running, and this problem reduces our efficiency of movement and contributes to overuse injuries. It doesn’t take any special strength to use the key stabilizers correctly. It takes coordination between the brain and muscles.
Consider the example of the deepest muscles of the abdominal wall (the transversus abdominis and internal obliques). According to Michael Fredericson, M.D., a sports medicine specialist at Stanford University and one of the world’s premier experts on core conditioning for runners, these muscles are vital to proper stabilization of the pelvis during running.
Yet the vast majority of runners (including most elite runners) are unable to activate these muscles functionally to maintain pelvic stability on the run.
Again, weakness isn’t the issue. “It only takes a 10 percent contraction to do the job,” says Fredericson. Rather, the problem is a lack of neuromuscular communication. Our brains literally can’t find these muscles, probably because of the absurd amount of time we spent slouching in seats — a posture that requires no use of the deep abs.
So correcting the problem doesn’t require that we increase the maximum force generating capacity of the deep abs. Instead it requires that we learn how to use them, especially in sport-specific movements.