Core strength versus core connectionNov 12, 2021
Whether you’ve heard it from a friend, personal trainer or coach, chances are someone’s told you that you need to strengthen your core to be an effective runner or athlete in general.
While this isn’t entirely false, I like to replace the word core “strength” with core “function” or core “connection”. Saying you need core strength implies that your core is weak. I’ve seen many clients who believe their core is weak when in fact it’s short, locked and tight with no “give”. This equates to a core that’s too strong. A tight core is usually unstable and fails to function as it should. However, this isn’t the same as a weak core.
As you read this, take a moment to stop and consider what your core currently feels like. Is it soft and relaxed, allowing you to breathe fluidly or is it tight? Can you relax it even more? If you’re standing or sitting upright in a chair and you soften your core, do you spontaneously collapse or do you feel more relaxed?
Try this core experiment
If you use the cue to “zip your core up” or pull in your belly button to activate your core, do it now and see how well you can breathe in and out. Do your shoulders feel tighter or looser? Zip it up hard and really tense your core, then consider how it makes you feel emotionally? Do you feel calm and relaxed or tense and more uptight? How does your breathing feel now with a tense core? Turn your head side to side, then focus on how your neck feels in this position. What about your lower back and hips and pelvic floor?
Now relax your core and let it go. Soften your belly and breathe into your abdomen. Check your neck, shoulder, and back tension as well as your emotional state when you breathe in and out. Feel better? You can also refer to my blog on breathing and running for a more in-depth view of how to relax while out on the road or trails.
How your core should function
If you analyse the diagram below of the posterior aspect of the abdominal wall, you can see the diaphragm and big players of the core. All these muscles need to act fluidly and independently in movement. A stiff or tense core blocks relaxed breathing, communication and fluid coordinated movement in the body.
Strengthen your core as you wish but be mindful of the fact that it’s important to relax your core and breathing. Live relaxed. Breathe relaxed. Trust your core to do what it needs to.
WATCH this video for an effective way to connect your core and strengthen your glutes – the Frog Bridge to Butterfly Crunchie:
Add this exercise combination to mobility work or your regular core routine. You can also use it as an activation before strength and/or exercise.
Start with alternating 5 frog bridges with 5 butterfly crunches, then as you get used to the movements, reduce it to 4:4 then 3:3, then eventually one bridge to one crunchie to make it a single exercise.
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