Core Training, Pilates & Yoga
As a coach and personal trainer, I am asked too often about “how to get a ripped 6-pack.” I’m more inclined to help an athlete achieve a stronger core than get “ripped abs.” Having a strong core has nothing to do the appearance of your mid-section. Your core refers to the your abdominals, back, glutes, hips, and every muscle surrounding your thigh. These are the muscles that help control posture and stride length. Posture and stride length are strongly associated with running performance among sprinters and distance runners alike, but a strong core is also important for power athletes, as a body in poor alignment would not generate as much force for a given movement. Many of the world class athletes in track and field’s throwing events could be considered overweight, but their core strength and power are ten-fold compared to athletes in other sports. Therefore, in order to generate higher forces, the biomechanics of the movement must be ideal. Biomechanics is aided by proper body positioning via a stronger mid-section. If a ST routine is kept dynamic and functional, then virtually every exercise performed could be considered core training, namely for the same reason that running is a great core workout. When performed with proper form, both dynamic ST and running generate high forces, which leads to a great core workout.
Yoga & Pilates
Pilates and yoga are both great for core strength and posture. They both emphasize body awareness as it relates to the principles of proper running posture and rhythmic breathing. Another benefit of these two modes of training is that they teach one how to focus on pain and discomfort, which is vital in learning positive self-talk, a skill I discuss in other chapters of this book. I am a strong proponent of Pilates and yoga, but if push came to shove in terms of building strength, then I would choose Pilates over yoga. Both are challenging, both require coordination, but Pilates is more specific to running, as it incorporates more true strength work for the leg muscles, even though this exists to a degree in yoga. Furthermore, doing more yoga “to gain flexibility” isn’t necessary unless a physical therapist or trainer has diagnosed you with a range of motion limitation. If a person is already flexible enough to establish proper running mechanics, then improving flexibility does not further enhance run performance. To reiterate, I prefer Pilates because there’s more emphasis on strength work rather than on isometric contractions and range of motion.
Cross-training and Peak Fitness
There is a potential drawback of runners doing too much yoga during the week. I can easily equate this to doing too much of any form of cross-training (XT). The answer lies in Specificity of Training. When do we place the priority on yoga, ST and other forms of XT? Answer: the off-season, when specificity of training is at its lowest. During this time you can go crazy with ST, I encourage it, and we should plan a period of reduced run training anyway. However, for those that hit a peak race in the Spring, you are entitled to another off-season period following that race, as in a Boston marathoner taking the entire month of May to recover and do more XT (for example).
The point is that there may come a time when doing too much stretching and ST conflicts with your run training and leaves you even more fatigued during the week. Imagine that: A relaxing yoga class contributing to stress on the body (and therefore the mind via the feedback loop). When XT conflicts with your run training, either in terms of scheduling or energy levels, remember the principle of specificity of training and keep running the priority. So yes, it is possible to overtrain with XT. This is also the reason XT eventually doesn't make it through the funnel we call "tapering". If you cut down your run volume to taper for your big fall race, but then make up for it all with poor XT choices then you've defeated the purpose of the taper.
Train hard (and choose your cross-training wisely)!