Can you hold a plank for more than a minute? Do you diligently hit the mat for your daily dose of core work before or after every run? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you might want to consider trading in some of your planking time for some good old strength and power work.
Open any running magazine and you’re sure to find at least one article extolling the virtues of core work for runners. Planks appear to be the king of the core exercises, with most people aspiring to spend as long as possible in the plank position. The internet is full of plank challenges, where the win goes to the person who can hold plank the longest. Some experts, however, are challenging the power of the plank. One of these experts is Dr. Greg Lehman, a physiotherapist, chiropractor, strength & conditioning specialist, and spine and biomechanics expert.
Dr. Lehman believes that general strength and power training for the whole body should be a runner’s first priority, and that hips and calves are the true driving forces and power producers in running. The muscles that are usually thought of as the core (erector spinae, obliques, rectus and transverse abdominis) aren’t big contributors to running mechanics. In fact, these muscles are worked at less than 30% of their maximum during running. According to Dr. Lehman, running itself is like an endurance workout for the core. Why spend more time on what we’re already getting? If we’re going to spend time training our core muscles, we should focus on strength rather than more endurance.
So which exercises should we do to train our core for power? Grab a kettlebell and do some swings. Traditional deadlifts, med ball slams and throws, and tuck jumps are also good choices. The beauty of these exercises is that they work so many more muscles than just the core. If you really miss the plank position, do stability ball rollouts or stir the pot. One exercise that made it to the top of Dr. Lehman’s list is the side plank with leg lifts. This one works the hips too.
Strength and power are becoming more prevalent in the running world. Both are proving to be important for preventing injuries as well as improving running economy and performance. Training the body as a whole instead of as individual pieces not only leads to improved strength and power, it also saves time. Next time you work your core, think power instead of plank.
What are your favorite core exercises? Do you consider the plank one of the essentials?