Focusing on the core business

This week I returned from a long weekend in Berlin, where I was supporting a friend who was running the Berlin Half Marathon, determined to knuckle down and step up my rehabilitation ahead of my next target race, the Vitality London 10,000 at the end of May. And a big part of that rehabilitation will involve focusing on my core strength.

A lot of runners seem to underestimate how important the body’s core is to good running, but watch one of the top athletes in action and you’ll notice just how stable their hips are – their bodies seem to glide along. Their core muscles are doing a great job at stabilising their hips, providing a solid base from which the rest of their running movement stems.

Certainly the professionals appreciate the importance of a strong core. David McHenry, physical therapist and strength coach for Alberto Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project, has said:

The foot is really just the end of a big kinetic whip – the leg. Core and hips are where every runner should be starting if they are really concerned with optimising their form, maximising their speed and minimising injury potential.

It’s anecdotal, but when two members of my cousin’s running club decided to take up Pilates (a well-known core-strengthening technique) without otherwise altering their training routines, both saw their times tumble to new personal bests.

I’ve done mat-based Pilates classes at my local leisure centre for a couple of years, at least as much as my various recovery stages have allowed, but sometimes I’ve not been totally convinced that it’s been entirely beneficial for me. For example, when doing curl ups (from lying back on the floor to bending forward over the legs), my torso has always veered off to the right, courtesy of weaker muscles on that side of my body struggling to keep up with those on the left.

Reformer Pilates

A Reformer Pilates bed  (Image courtesy of )

A Reformer Pilates bed (Image courtesy of

The other week my sports massage therapist recommended that I try Reformer Pilates instead, something I’d never heard of before. Instead of doing exercises on a floor mat, you use a piece of equipment that at first looks like some sort of torture device. It has a sliding ‘mat’ that can be attached to various springs to increase resistance, and bars, straps and other bits of paraphanelia that basically mean you’re doing the exercises against some resistance.

As it turned out there’s a Reformer Pilates venue just around the corner from my apartment, so today I gave it a go for the first time. It took a little getting used to at first as I tried to keep up with the class leader’s instructions, inserting clips, adjusting parts of the machine, and getting used to the sliding aspect of the machine. But I could immediately detect what will hopefully be a big benefit for me: the machine helps keep everything aligned and guides you through the movement – just what I’m after in order to strengthen my right-hand side.

I’ve now booked up for another five lessons and will combine it with other core-strengthening work, including a gym-based regime developed for me by a personal trainer. Fingers crossed being ‘rotten to the core’ will become a thing of the past and I’ll be able to look forward to the Vitality London 10,000 with confidence.