So, you want to be a better runner? The first piece of advice you will normally get (and it’s good advice) is to run more. If you want to swim better, you have to practice swimming. If you want to play your piano better, you have to practice playing the piano. Notice a theme developing here? But there comes a point of diminishing returns where more and more running doesn’t give you more benefit. In fact, beyond a certain point, more running will begin to break you down and you will get slower instead of faster. Or in the worst-case scenario, you will get injured and not run at all.
So, what do we do when we are running as much as we think we can tolerate but aren’t satisfied with our times? You can check your diet to make sure you are eating optimally, make sure you are getting enough rest to recover from your workouts or you can work on other aspects of training. And that is our subject today.
Developing your core muscles makes you a much more efficient runner and more resistant to injury. Many books have been written on core development and I won’t try to reinvent that. On the St. Thomas Aquinas track team, core workouts are an integral part of what we do. The results speak for themselves as the team has been the Ohio Division 3 state champion the last two years and the runner-up the year before that. So, I believe it’s working well.
As part of our training we came up with a thing called the core challenge. The core challenge takes the various moves that are part of our core routine and sets a goal for how many of each you can do in one hour. The list is as follows:
- 600 Crunches (shoulders must leave the floor)
- 100 Pushups (elbows must reach a 90 degree angle, knees don’t touch the floor)
- 200 Twist Crunches (elbows must touch opposite knees)
- 100 Airplanes
- 4 Minute Board
- 50 Fire Hydrants (leg must be raised to parallel to the floor)
- 50 Inner Leg
- 1 Minute Backboard
- 50 Flamingoes
- 300 Cherry Pickers (both hands must touch the floor on either side)
- 1 Minute Sideboard
- 50 Metronomes
Sideboard is one minute per side. During the 4 minute board, each limb (one at a time) will be raised for a 20 second continuous period.
Fire hydrants, inner leg lifts and flamingoes are 50 per side.
All of the above must be completed in less than one hour to be considered successful completion. Other than the various boards, the exercises can be broken down into smaller numbers at any one time, for example 50 crunches done 12 times in that hour counts as 600 or 5 pushups done 20 times is 100.
Calling the whole thing the core “challenge” is very appropriate as I found out trying it myself. My daughter and son-in- law and I did it last summer. All I will say is prepare to walk around all hunched over and very sore for a few days afterwards.
Now good news for all or you seasoned, experienced, veteran, masters or I as refer to myself, older than dirt runners, you don’t have to do the whole thing. It’s unrealistic for most of us of my age to even think about doing it all. Maybe you are an exception and my hat’s off to you if you are. There is an age adjusted core challenge! For each year past age 30, you can take off 1% of the total for each move. For example, if you are 60, that is 30 years past 30 so you can do 30% fewer of each thing on the list. Instead of 100 pushups, you only need to do 70. Instead of 600 crunches, you can do 420. Your board (plank) will be 2:48 instead of 4:00 minutes. Don’t get real excited. I did it and I hurt for a long time. But like a fool I know I want to do it again. Just let me get past the next birthday so I can take a bit more off.
Pictured below are some of the girls on the team who show exactly what the various items on the list are.
Ryley shows a crunch. Her shoulders are raised off the ground. Feet can be up or resting on the floor.
Next, Kalee demonstrates a proper pushup. Sorry, but these are not from the knees. Notice that she has a straight line from her shoulders to her heels, just as if she is doing a board. Go all the way up so elbows are straight, then down far enough that elbows reach a 90 degree angle.
Liz shows a twist crunch. Her elbow actually touches the opposite knee. To count as one twist crunch, each elbow has to touch the opposing knee. In the picture, she is actually only doing a half of a twist crunch. The twist crunch will be complete when she touches the other knee with her other elbow. Judging by the smile on her face, Liz seems to be enjoying her twist crunches more than I do.
Hannah shows an airplane. These are known by many names, like supermans, seals or the totally boring name of back hyperextensions. One airplane is going from flat on the ground to the up-position Hannah is showing, then back down. Making airplane noises while doing this one is optional.
The board, aka plank, at four minutes long, is a killer. But hey, if this was easy it wouldn’t be called the core challenge. It might be called the core walk in the park if everybody could do it. Here, Kacee shows a very good board. See how straight of a line she maintains from shoulders to heels. She also is showing poor form in the other two pictures one with her back arched and one with her back sagging.
Next is Kalee demonstrating a fire hydrant. If you can picture a dog visiting and making use of a fire hydrant, you get the picture. So start on all fours and raise one leg straight out to the side until your thigh is parallel to the ground then go back to all fours. 50 per side.
Here, Kalee shows an inner leg lift. You lay on one side and lift the leg closest to the ground up off the ground then put it back down. 50 per side.
My least favorite of all is the backboard. Kacee shows it in the picture below. Stay as straight as possible.
The core is more than just abs. Flamingoes work the gluteal muscles. Stand on one foot, bend over to touch the ground (it’s okay to bend your knee) then stand back up again. 50 per side. Quinn shows it below.
Another hard one for me is cherry pickers. Think of picking cherries from a basket on one side and placing them in a basket on the other side. Make sure both of your hands touch the floor on each side. Liz is obviously enjoying this as you can see the big smile that hasn’t left her face from when she was doing her twist crunches.
Natalie is showing an excellent sideboard. She is keeping a perfectly straight line from head to feet. The arm not being used can be up or just laying on your side but can’t be touching the ground or helping to hold you up in any way.
The last one is the metronome. Did you ever take piano lessons and use a metronome to keep the proper rhythm? In this one you get to become a human metronome. Start on your back with your legs up, then extend them to one side, bring them back and then extend them to the other side. Kalee shows all 3 parts of this.
There you have it. By itself the core challenge won’t make you a better runner but as an extra, when you have maxed out on your mileage, it’s a great help to make you a more efficient runner and more resistant to injury. Good luck and don’t say you weren’t warned when you are walking around all hunched over and sore after trying this.
Keep running my friends!