Runners are increasingly recognizing the importance of core strength. Overall, core strength training reinforces the way that your pelvis, abs, hips and lower back work together. When you're at your peak fitness level, running allows well-toned core muscles to work in sync. When your foot hits the ground, they hold your trunk rock-solid as the kinetic energy from your foot transmits to your hamstring, up to your arm and back down to your other foot. A conditioned core prevents any wiggling in your torso and keeps you from deflecting energy, so you run faster.
As we mentioned earlier, core conditioning reduces the chances of all sorts of injuries, ranging from common running injuries to those that are considered a normal part of the aging process. Core strength training also improves stability and balance, two qualities that you'll lose without practice. And without them, routine running and even regular activities -- like sitting in an office chair all day at work -- can lead to back pain, hernia, disc degeneration and arthritis [source: Shaw]. This is one reason why people favor using stability balls or doing exercises that challenge balance -- like doing bicep curls while standing on one leg -- when performing core-strengthening workouts.
It may seem obvious that core conditioning improves posture, which is a bonus for marathon runners. When you're exhausted at the end of a long race, your coordination and posture tend to suffer and cause you to slow down. But core-strengthening workouts will improve your coordination and posture throughout the race, even in the latter part of a marathon when you may need it most [source: runbritain].
As a runner, you probably already know your goal is to achieve greater running power without becoming too muscular. Moderate resistance training -- including core conditioning -- helps your nervous system coordinate how and when muscle fibers contract, contributing to greater force [source: Beck]. Striking the delicate balance between keeping your weight down and being both strong and fast can be difficult. A coach or trainer can help you set your strength and endurance goals and come up with workout plans that help you achieve your performance objectives.
Tighten up your abs and hop over to the next section to learn more about core strength workouts.