Your core may not be the first area of the body you would identify as important in preventing lower-body injuries, but when properly conditioned, this center of strength and balance can go a long way toward protecting feet and ankles while running.
“When someone comes into therapy because of chronic Achilles tendinitis or plantar fasciitis, we look at the ankle and the foot, but we also want to look further up the chain at how the hip relates to the pelvis and lower back to see if there’s weakness in those areas,” says Michelle Sine, a physical therapist who specializes in the foot and ankle at Tidelands Health Rehabilitation Services at The Market Common.
When muscles of the core (the abdomen, chest and back, and peripherally, the hips and glutes) are weak, the body often compensates by adjusting knee and ankle movement.
“A lot of times, weakness in the hip abductors will lead to a gait pattern that puts too much stress on the inside of the ankle or the Achilles tendon,” says Sine.
It’s typically when running long distances that lack of core strength becomes problematic.
“As you increase your mileage, you’re more likely to get fatigue in these smaller postural muscles that really leads to a breakdown in your running mechanics and makes you susceptible to injuries of the foot or ankle,” Sine explains. “Strengthening these areas can help.”
Fortunately, there are a number of simple, at-home core exercises that are ideal for runners.
Most runners are used to focusing primarily on leg strength. That part of the anatomy doesn’t have to be abandoned during a core workout. In fact, core workouts for runners should incorporate multiple positions and body regions, rather than just the abdomen and back. Sine recommends the following:
- Get on your hands and knees, then lift and hold an opposing arm and leg. Switch.
- Perform planks and side planks
- Engage in single leg squats, or a modified lunge in which you’re balancing on one leg while lifting the opposite leg
If you’d like a customized routine of core workouts, consult with a physical therapist like Sine, who specializes in helping runners optimize their workouts.
“Don’t compartmentalize lower-body injuries or exercises,” she says. “The stronger you are in your core, the better your running mechanics will be — and that can be achieved through a well-rounded workout.”