Building a strong core: Look beyond sit-ups for optimal results

We have previously written about how gluteal muscle weakness is a source of trouble for many runners. An equally troublesome culprit is lack of abdominal strength. For many years in our schools and even in the military they have used the “sit-up” as a measure by which to grade abdominal strength.  And for just as long, people have been using the sit-up to “strengthen and develop” the abdominals.  Although the sit-up can be a challenging exercise in many respects, it may not be the optimal go-to exercise in terms of increasing functional abdominal stability.

Traditional sit-ups predominantly use the most superficial layer of your abdominals, the rectus abdominus, along with the hip flexors in order to perform the exercise.  Most people in present day society, especially runners, do not need to strengthen the hip flexors.  Many of us spend the day sitting behind a desk, or sitting in the car, as a result the hip flexors are already short and tight.

The muscle group that we really want to target when looking to strengthen the abdominals, are the transverse abdominal muscles.  These muscles are the deepest of the 4 abdominal muscles groups, and work closely with the multifidi (the small postural muscles in the lumbar spine) and the pelvic floor musculature (the muscles that run from the pubic bone to the tailbone).  As a result, improving the strength of this muscle group can help to create a corset of stability in the trunk, providing an optimal foundation from which the body can work.

The first step in strengthening your transverse abdominals is to identify that you are using the correct muscles.  Lie on your back with your knees bent, place your fingertips on your abdomen just inside the hip bones.  Use your abdominal muscles to pull your belly button towards your spine, (as if you were trying to put on a tight pair of jeans).  Make sure you are not holding your breath or sticking out your ribs when you do this.

If you are using the correct muscles you will feel a subtle contraction underneath your fingertips.  Perform this exercise until you can comfortably hold the contraction for 10 seconds and repeat it 10 times.  Once you are confident with this exercise you can begin to include the pelvic floor muscles.  The pelvic floor muscles are engaged when you activate the muscles you would use to stop the flow of urine.  If you are unsure whether or not you are using the proper muscles place your fingertips on the same spot on your abdomen as you did for the transverse abdominal isometrics.  If you are engaging the pelvic floor properly you will feel the same muscles you felt previously under your fingertips tighten.  Begin by trying to hold this contraction for 2-3 seconds repeat 10 times.  Once you have the hang of it, try to perform the abdominal isometric and the pelvic floor isometric at the same time.  This combined isometric exercise is the basis from which we will work to build the rest of the exercises.

For more tips on run training, sports performance, and injury prevention, please contact our office, or respond through the comments section.  And for more tips like these just follow Baudry Therapy Center on Twitter, or like Baudry Therapy on Facebook.

Taryn Cohn

Running Injury? Look to Your Booty for Salvation

For many runners frequent injury can be a common source of frustration.  But the source of your injury may not be as obvious as you think.  Running is a great cardio vascular activity and a great source of enjoyment.  However, it is not always the best activity in terms of creating optimal muscle balance in the body.  There are some muscle groups heavily active during running and those that get less attention. It is those that get less attention that may turn out to be the source of your trouble.

There are three main muscle groups used most during running

  • Hip flexors (muscles at the tops of the thighs closest to the pelvis)
  • Quadriceps (muscles that run the length of the front of the thighs)
  • Gastrocnemius/soleus complex (aka the calves).

While the hip flexors and the quads are the driving force on the front of the body, the calves are one of the only things active in the rear.  If you’ve taken a good look at a group of runners lately, there is one thing they often have in common, NO JUNK IN THE TRUNK!

The gluteal muscles (aka your buttocks) have a very important roll in human function. These muscles are the primary movers at the hip, controlling hip flexion and extension as well as internal and external rotation.  Because of this they are able to control the rate at which the entire lower extremity transfers weight and impacts the ground. Weakness in these muscles places abnormal strain on other groups resulting in tissue overuse and breakdown.

Common running overuse injuries can include:

  • ITB syndrome (lateral hip and knee pain)
  • Plantar fasciitis (heel pain)
  • Knee pain / patella-femoral syndrome
  • Posterior tibialis tendonitis (medial foot / ankle pain)

The good news is, with these simple exercises done 2-3x/week you can begin to strengthen your gluteal muscles and restore muscle balance in the body.

Bridges Exercise to strengthen muscle Bridges

Tighten your abs and squeeze your glutes.
Then lift your bottom off the floor and hold for 10 seconds.
Repeat the exercise 10 times.

Clams exercise to stengthen muscles - Baudry TherapyClams

Lift your knee towards the ceiling as far as you can without rolling back.
Hold for 5 seconds.
Repeat 15 times.

hip exenders exercise to strengthen muscles - baudry therapyHip Extenders

Tighten abdominals and lift heel towards ceiling while keeping your pelvis level and activating your glutes.

Repeat 15 times.

Go ahead, give these a try and let me know if it helps you. And now that you have tackled the butt, stay tuned for next month as we tackle your gut!