Friday, January 5, 2018

Postural Stability

This is going to be a two part series on postural strength, and basic strength training for runners and triathletes. It is by no means meant to be a full program, but rather part of program and a way to get started building some better strength and stability for endurance athletes. Also, keep in mind, although these are what I would consider basic exercises, there is some risk involved and I highly encourage you to keep your safety in mind when doing these. Above is a video I made that explains all of the exercises I'll go over in this blog, and it has a few more advanced things in it as well.

First up, I want to address the term "postural strength." I stole this from Vern Gambetta, the wise old grandfather of strength and conditioning, at least that's how I think of him. The reason I use this term instead of "core" strength is the image it puts in your head. Often times when we say "core," people immediately think of six pack abs. If we use the term "postural strength," it puts a more complete image in our heads of what being in nice tall posture should like. It's important to understand that there are several different groups of muscles that work together to maintain our posture, and that we need to learn how to hold our posture and maintain stability when running, swimming, strength training, etc...

I should also address the term "stability." Stability not only refers to our ability to not fall over and keep our balance, but in this context, I'm referring specifically to the stability of our pelvis and spine. Are you able to keep a neutral spine and pelvis when running? How much shift is happening in that area when one foot hits the ground as opposed to the other? We can get more in depth here, but for now, I want to keep it simple and in the context of what is relevant to endurance athletes. Though I don't like to say that doing x,y, and z will prevent injury, or that strength training is injury prevention, I will say the stronger and more stable your body is, the less likely you are to get injured.

Core work is important for everyone, even more so for endurance athletes. Often times breakdowns in form come from breakdowns in postural strength. The longer the duration of an event, the more likely the breakdowns are going to happen at some point. The stronger our abs, back, hips and glutes are, the greater our ability to maintain good mechanical form over time will be, and the greater our efficiency will be as well.

You'll probably notice there are no crunches, planks or trunk twists in this post. There are two reasons for that; everyone knows those, and your abs should be working in all of these exercises. You want to keep your abs engaged the whole time, and when I say engaged I mean they are working, but not squeezing super hard or "flexing." At no point should your abs just be hangin' out all loose and jelly like. Use your abdominal muscles to keep your ribs closed towards the center line of your body. They should not be splayed out and visible through your shirt. Also, do not use your diaphragm to push your belly out and brace your abdominal wall. Lastly, things do not always have to be super hard to be effective. A lot of these exercises are not as taxing as a plank or something else. The main thing is to get the movement correct and pay attention to details, which takes time and repetition. This work should be done at a medium to slow tempo. Faster is not better here. The video has a few more of the do's and don'ts, so be sure and check it out (Side note, those are shadows not sweaty pits in case you were wondering).

Pelvic Lift
1. The Pelvic Lift: Start with your back flat on the floor, knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Using your abdominal muscles, pull your belly button in towards your spine, tucking the pelvis and lifting the tailbone off of the floor. Next, slightly engage your hamstrings and press your feet into the floor. Continue lifting your spine, one vertebrae at time, curling from the tailbone up to a bridge. Keep your abs engaged, squeezing your ribs closed, making sure the belly does not push out as you lift. You will want to reverse it on the way down, touching one vertebrae at a time back to the floor, starting just between your shoulder blades, rolling all the way back down to your tailbone. You should end with your pelvis back to neutral. You can check this by straightening your legs onto the floor, and seeing whether or not your pelvis moves (It should not if you're in neutral). 10 reps at a medium tempo is good.

Single Leg Pelvic Lift
2. The Single Leg Pelvic Lift: The process is exactly the same as the regular pelvic lift. The main difference is you keep one leg lifted to "table top" (your shin makes a nice level "table top") for all 10 reps. The single leg will be more hamstring and glute work on the leg that is down. Keep your hips in your peripheral, and watch to see whether they drop to one side or the other as you lift and lower. The goal is to keep them perfectly level. Do 10 reps on one side and than the other.

You'll do the next series on your side, doing all three exercises on one side before repeating the same series on the opposite side.

Single Leg Lift
3. Single Leg Lift: Start on your side, body in a straight line. Look at your shoulders, hips and ankles as markers to see if you're straight. Next, keep your abs engaged lifting and lowering your top leg for 10 reps. The lifting will be some hip work for the top leg, but we are also focusing on the waist. We don't want your waist to sink towards the floor as you lift. You check this by putting your fingers under your ribs on the bottom side, and feeling whether or not you squish them as your leg lifts. Also, try not to let your hip rotate back behind you as you lift. Keep the hips perpendicular to the floor.

Leg Circles
4. Leg Circles: Staying on the same side, pike your legs forward a few inches. You will circle the top leg 10 forward, and 10 backward. Start with a small circle, keep your abs engaged as your leg moves. The main goal here is to keep the hips stable and not letting them wiggle. If you are not strong here your top hip will want move a lot. Your circle can bigger as you are able to keep your hips stable and perpendicular to the floor. Rest between forward and backward reps as needed. You may feel some burning!

Single Leg Bicycle
5. Single Leg Bicycle: On the same side, slightly lift your top leg. Same rules as the other side work; abs engaged, ribs closed, hips perpendicular to the floor, and begin to bicycle the top leg. Bicycle can start small, keep the hips stable, with the heel of the top foot passing right by the heel of the bottom foot. Do 10 reps forward, and 10 backward. Rest between as needed. As you get more stable, and your bicycle gets bigger, you can start to reach that top foot and knee behind your tailbone as you go. This will cause the low back to work harder, so take your time and do not strain.

Again, make sure to complete all the 3 previous exercises on one side and than the other before you move on. Keep the reps equal on both sides, be mindful of how hard one side is versus the other.

Back Extension
6. Back Extension: Laying flat on your belly with toes pointed, palms up, pull your knee caps off of the floor by engaging the quads. Keeping your toes on the floor, lift the shoulders and palms to the ceiling. Pretty simple. 10 reps is good. If you are having low back pain, you should probably avoid this exercise.

Donkey Kick
7. Donkey Kick: Starting on all fours, using your lats draw your shoulders down towards your hips, eyes down towards the floor, with your knees and hands straight down from your hips and shoulders. Extend the left leg straight out behind you, and than right arm straight out in front of you, head stays down. If you are not very stable, just balancing in this position will be work. Doing your best to keep you balance, return arm and leg to starting position. Your knee should scrape across the top of floor as meets the opposite knee. The goal is to keep hips level, back straight and good posture as you move in and out. Do 10 reps on one side, and then 10 on the other.

Super Clam
8. The Super Clam: This is a tough one, and should be optional if the other exercises were hard. Start with your knees bent, elbow on the floor, lats engaged. Lift you hips up off the floor so that your torso is in a nice straight line. Hold this position and lift and lower the top leg with the knee bent. Lifting the leg will be some work, but the main focus is to keep the torso rigid, abs working, and not letting the ribs/waist of the bottom side sink towards the floor. 10 reps is plenty, and than switch sides.

As you can see, a lot of this work is in a different plane of motion as compared to running. This helps to build stability, and also helps to loosen the body up by moving in different directions than most people are used too. One set of this series is plenty for a short workout, and you don't have to do 10 reps if it's super difficult (train don't strain!).  You can do 1-3 sets if you would like, but I find doing 1 full set 4-6 days a week to be more effective. Like any other training we do, consistency is king! If you are new to this type of work, I suggest doing it on its own and seeing how hard is for you. As you get stronger, you can use it as a pre-run warm up to get the core working, but not necessarily fatigued, before you run. I like to do it in the mornings with some stretching before I get going. It really helps wake me up, but also helps me feel better throughout the day. Try it out, video yourself and compare to me to check your form. Feel free to contact with me questions through our website.

Coach Frank

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