Dopey Core Work

It occurred to me that I could elaborate a bit on the core work that I suggest doing for the Dopey workouts. Thanks Tammy & Tammy’s friends who are following the program!

First let me reiterate that core work is very important to running or any sport. A strong core will help you maintain your running form across the long miles of the Dopey Challenge or any distance really. A strong core is also great if like me, you have a desk job that may have you slouching all day. Before we get to the exercises I suggest in the plan I made let’s first discuss what is meant by “The Core.”

Most people think of their core as just their abdominal muscles or their “Abs.” While the abdominals are included, the core is made up of around 30 muscles depending on how you count them. I’m not going to go through all 30 here so don’t worry this isn’t a Gross Anatomy 101 lecture.

Here they are! Your core muscles as one part of the core.

Psoas Major/Iliacus: Known as the hip flexors, these muscles lift the thigh toward the abdomen and limit excess motion of the hip joint. **Limiting excess motion means a better running form so these tiny muscles are important to runners!

Erector Spinae: This collection of three muscles straightens the back and, along with the multifidus, a short muscle, supports the spine. Remember I said that I have a desk job? Slouching over a desk kills these muscles. Strengthening them helps your posture throughout the day and during a run.

Now, let’s talk about the abdominal muscles of the core.

Obliques: These muscles rotate your torso and work with the transversus abdominis to support your center during movement. If these are weak and you need to make a quick directional change then it’s going to be difficult.

Rectus Abdominis: These are what the lay person means when the say “The Abs.” These form the six-pack we all long for at the beach. Primarily, this muscle helps stabilize your core, its main function is to flex or curl the trunk like during a crunch or bending over to tie your shoes.

Transversus Abdominis: This muscle is your natural weight belt. It’s a very deep set muscle sitting under the obliques and wraps laterally around your center just like a belt.

Okay, now that you know the basics of the anatomy of your core let’s talk about how we are going to make them stronger because you know Dopey has a six pack under that tunic he wears to the mines, right? That’s because he is an avid core worker and his job is physical. The dude is stacked!

Below is an excerpt from my Dopey Challenge Novice Training Program blog post concerning core work. Remember if you want a more advanced program I did write a Dopey Challenge Intermediate Training Program as well. The core work for both programs is similar except I added a standard plank to the intermediate plan.

EXCERPT:

Core:

Working your core is imperative for your training as a runner especially for the novice runner. As you run long distance your core stabilizes your entire body from your upper torso to your hips and spine. As your core fatigues your running form begins to degrade and you must expend more energy to keep running or maintain pace. Worse yet, as your core stabilizers weaken across the long miles it is easier to become injured as your ability to recover from a quick side-step or a high curb lessens. DO NOT SKIP your core workouts! Ask me if you don’t know how to do these exercises. I’m happy to explain!

Oh, and forget sit-ups. Sit-ups are worthless. I almost didn’t add crunches as I don’t do them, but I know the standard crunch is a recognized exercise by many people. Try to move from one core exercise to the next with minimal rest between exercises and only 30-60 seconds of rest between sets. If you are just starting take it slow at first and work your way into the workout little by little.

After you finish the core work stretch out the major muscle groups for 20-30 minutes holding for 15-20 seconds for each muscle and do 3 sets each. Hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and calf muscles should all be stretched after your core work.

Core  Rep/Time  Sets
Standard Plank 60 sec 3
Low Plank w/one leg off the ground: both legs 60sec 3/leg
High Plank position. Knee to elbow. Both legs 15/leg 3/side
Crunch w/arms crossed on chest 30 3
High Knees 50 3

The Core Exercises:

Standard Plank:

The standard plank has two positons, Low Plank & High Plank. The high plank position is just like when you are doing a push-up and you have your arms locked out straight at the top of the movement. Your hands and elbows should be directly below and in line with your shoulders. There is a straight line going from your head to your heels. Don’t allow your pelvis or hips to sag toward the floor and keep your head in line as well. Also, don’t stick you butt higher than your shoulders. Remember, a straight line is the goal. Just holding this position is a great beginner’s exercise for core work. Work your way up to holding it for 60 seconds for three sets. The low plank position is the same except you’re resting your weight on you forearms as your elbows are bent at 90 degree angles. Again keep a straight line going from your head to your heels just as with the high plank. Your elbows should be directly below and in line with your shoulders. The low plank may be an easier start for the newbie athlete as compared to the high plank. The picture below shows both high and low plank position as well as how to transition between the two.  The transition from high to low plank and back again is another exercise for the core if you want to add it later.

Transition from Low to High Plank position
Transition from Low to High Plank position

Low Plank w/One Leg Off the Ground

Get into the low or high plank position. I suggest low plank for beginners. From the low plank position and while maintaining the straight line from head to heel you will simply lift one foot off the ground so it is 6-8 inches off the ground. You will need to balance on one foot and your forearms. This is more difficult than the standard plank as your core has to work to balance you.

Low Plank with One Foot Off the Ground
Low Plank with One Foot Off the Ground

High (or Low) Plank – Knee to Elbow

This is an advanced move. Get into the low or high plank position. From the plank position and while maintaining the straight line from head to heel you will bend your right leg at the knee and hip bringing your right knee toward your right elbow. Depending on how flexible you are you may be able to touch your knee to your elbow (I can’t do this so no worries if you can’t either). Just don’t force it! Slow and controlled is the key until you learn the movement. Avoid allowing your butt to raise into the air as this compromises the integrity of your core. Remember, slow and controlled.  Work your way up to the suggested number of repetitions ans sets. Repeat for the other leg and keep the number of repetitions and sets the same for each side. NOTE: While I suggest doing this in high plank you can also do it from a low plank position as well. In low plank you will need to bring the knee to the outside of the body a bit more so you don’t scrape your knee on the ground.

High Plank Knee to Elbow
High Plank Knee to Elbow

Crunch:

When training I assume nothing so let’s go over the proper form for a basic crunch. Do these at the end of your workout as this exercise is from the most stable position. I don’t want you to pre-fatigue your abdominals until you’ve learned well the movements discussed above and built some dynamic core strength.

Lay with your back flat on the floor with your knees bent so that your feet are also flat on the floor. For beginners, cross your arms on your chest. Using your abdominal muscles lift your shoulders and head off the floor reaching your forehead toward the ceiling. DO NOT GO TOWARD YOUR FEET but rather toward the ceiling for proper form. I always describe having a string tied to your nose that pulls your head and shoulders toward the ceiling. Apologies, I don’t have a picture for this one as all the ones I found show the improper technique of yanking the head toward the feet with the chin pressed against the chest. there should always be space between the chin and the chest for this exercise.

Additionally, avoid putting your hands behind your head until you have gained enough core strength to not use your hands to lift (yank on) your head. This is hard on your spine and lessens the exercise as your arms are doing all of the work instead of your core.

High Knees:

These can be done “cardio style” or they can be done more as a slow and controlled “set and rep” style. From a standing positon raise your knee straight in front of you until your quadriceps (the front muscle group of your legs) is parallel to the ground. You don’t have to raise the knee higher, but you can once you get used to the exercise and learn the movement. Avoid just throwing the leg up, but instead use the core muscles (Psoas Major/Iliacus…hip flexors) to lift the leg. Cardio style is when you do these fatser and for a specified amount of time. Learn the movement before trying them “cardio style”. Play the right music and you could even do them Gangnam Style.

High Knees
High Knees

So that’s it for the core! There are basic and advanced moves in the program that hit all of the core muscles. If you wanted to do this more than once a week you definitely could. I do a 17 minute core workout twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays before work. My exception is that I don’t do crunches or sit-ups. There are a lot more exercises and versions of the exercises we discussed above that you could add, but this will get you started. As always, if you have questions I am here to help.

Happy Training!

Brian

7 thoughts on “Dopey Core Work”

  1. Thanks for the clarification on the core workout. It helped a lot.

    Also, can swimming be a substitution for elliptical days?

    Thanks for your help.

    Have a great day.

    Tammy Hughes

    1. Yes, this is a common question I get. Elliptical can be replaced with swimming. It’s a great active rest for the legs and the entire body really. Swim about the same amount of time and put in the same amount of effort. Since those are alternate training weeks anyway, swimming is a great add in or substitute!

    1. Yeah, I threw in the crunches so beginners would see something they recognize. I’ll do them at the end sometimes if I want to add just one more thing or if I’m feeling lazy… There are just so many core exercises that are better than crunches.

      If you’ve been doing standard planks for a while you might try adding/subbing “side planks” or adding in those “knee to elbow” exercises. Just transitioning from high to low plank for a few reps is pretty difficult, but great core work!

  2. Thank you for both a great training plan (I’m planning on using the intermediate plan) and this great post on core work!! I’m glad Ron asked about subbing swimming for the elliptical since I was wondering that, too. I hate the elliptical but love to swim!

    1. You are welcome! I understand on the elliptical. The goal for the alternate training weeks is to train in other ways besides just running. Of course we still have to run, but working in other modes of activity helps to build a well rounded athletic foundation. Good luck and let me know if you have questions along the way. I’m hoping to see a few of you that Sunday for the marathon! And maybe afterwards at EPCOT for the usual victory lap! 🙂

      Best,
      Brian

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