Great Abs = A Strong Run.

Jessi Stensland is a world class triathlete, a coach and author. Jessi checks in with her thoughts and advice on a solid core and direct correlation to a strong run. Click here for more of Jessi's articles and how to get involved in her Movement U clinics.

Simply stated, strong abdominals serve to stabilize the pelvis and the spine in a neutral, healthy position allowing one to maintain a strong stable base of support from the hips to the head. Without this, the ability to control the movement of the arms and legs is minimized, and so is one's ability to produce power in movements. Running with abdominals that are not only strong, but able to stay engaged throughout the entire running motion every stride, over the entire race distance is paramount to pain-free powerful running. Yet amazingly it is still a distant thought, if its thought of at all, as a component of endurance performance. It is rarely noted, let alone maximized, in most endurance performance training programs.

The glutes are our strongest movers due to their proximity to our core (short lever arm.) They are built to be the driving force behind purposeful, powerful human movement like that which a proper running stride requires. They are designed to engage and co-contract with other muscles such as the abdominal and hamstrings in coordinated movements. In running, it is imperative that the glutes fully engage when in full weight bearing underneath the body, and then co-contract with the hamstring as the leg extends backward in order to propel the body forward powerfully. Powerful foot placement on the ground followed by powerful hip, knee and ankle extension, is what seems to be sorely, no pun intended, missing from running form amongst the masses these days and especially from the end of the race. Heel striking, shuffling and minimal hip flexion and extension are still the norm.

Here are a couple great examples of a powerful stride, not coincidentally two of the fastest runners at the Ironman distance

Not surprisingly, Craig and Chrissie don't only look like this at the beginning of the marathon, but at the end as well. They are tall, their forward leg is in a great position that will allow for their midfoot to be directly under their body at full weight bearing. From that strong weight bearing position, they then are able to fully extend their back leg as is evident in the photos above. To do this, the abs must be working (and able) to keep their pelvis stable in a neutral position creating a stable/strong base that allows the glutes, hamstring and calf to extend the leg powerfully through the hip/knee/ankle in order to generate maximum power. Coordinating this movement serves to then launch the leg into the swing phase, setting it up for another powerful landing position.
The new question that should be asked is not about proper running form,
but how to replicate it and do so for a long period of time. And...why
are most people unable to do this, certainly by the end of the run?

question to runners of any distance or speed would be, when have you
trained your leg to extend fully? Powerfully? Often their answer is,
they haven't.

There are many options to incorporate this into
training in order that it may be accomplished on the run. None of these
options are new - but few are understood as to their relevance to
healthy movement, running in particular.

not independent of movement. Meaning, not only "ab/core" work but
within coordinated movements, like a glute bridge, squat patterns,
lunges, and deadlift patterns in which you must train the abs to keep
the hips in neutral as you flex and extend the hips/knees/ankles in a
strong, coordinated pattern, just like you need them to work within
your running stride. Connect the dots.

mentioned earlier - Glutes are our most powerful movers. They are the
drivers of the extension of the hip, but they have other functions, one
of which is to control the rotation of the femur at the hip. The
ability to eliminate that rotation, and keep the hip/knee/ankle in
alignment like a piston, instead of flopping around all over the place
(often seen at the end of ironman - most noticeably - jiggle legs) is
paramount to injury resistance and powerful strides in running.
Activate, strengthen, stabilize with and use...your GLUTES. Examples of
movements are, lucky for us (and not coincidentally,) the same as
listed above - glute bridge, single and double leg squats, lunges,
deadlifts - where the focus is always proper form. Few reps done right.

one thing to do drills its another to do them with focus, precision and
purpose. If you've ever done running drills while chit chatting or not
understanding the exact reason you're doing them as it will relate to
your run performance - you probably haven't been doing them as
purposefully or efficiently as possible. Do them, and do them right.

you've got abdominal and glute strength - it's important to use them to
coordinate your movements: parts of the whole which make up great
running form. Incorporating movements like jumps, hops and bounds serve
to enhance the elastic qualities of your muscles, help maximize
neuromuscular control and coordinate the action of hip/knee/ankle
flexion and extension. Especially with the goal of maximizing the
extension in the leg drive portion of the running stride as mentioned
above. There are any number of options and progressions in elastic
movements - and once again the focus should be on form and few reps
done right.

ULTIMATELY...Lucky for us, it's not rocket
science. What it comes down to is getting back to our roots. As
Christopher McDougall entertainingly and unquestionably unearths in
Born to Run, our body was born to run. Matt Metzgar says it simply in
this short, sweet relevant take on adults and running. A few excerpts
below. The whole blog post is here.

"A few times this summer,
I watched some kids as they ran around the local park. The running form
that many of these kids have is just amazing - huge strides, tons of
flexiblity, and lots of power...If you compare a child running
effortlessly to an adult jogger shuffling around the track, it's night
and day. It shouldn't even be considered the same activity. This
running form...seems to be no effort at all for kids! It's tough to
reconnect with this natural stride after decades of shoe wear and the
less active nature of adult life. But there is always hope!" Hope and
hard work. Connecting the dots is key. Realizing that running is a
power sport and that its possible to do it pain-free is a great first
step in accomplishing it. Surrounding yourself with others working
toward the same is the next...

Go train smart!!


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  • Great stuff David! Thanks for sharing! All of my long distance running clients will be getting a copy!

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