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Deep Abs and Running: Gotta Get to Your Core

We all want to be efficient, right? Especially when we exercise. Well, according to Michael Fredericson, Ph.D., a running bio-mechanics expert at Stanford University, 90 percent of runners waste energy with stride errors and faulty gait. That basically just means running "funny" - length of steps being too short or long and/or pelvis swinging too much from side to side. Fredericson concluded that these stride issues were caused by weak abs. Runners were not using their deeps abs - the transversus abdominis (TVA) as well as the internal obliques.

The deep abs stabilize the pelvis by keeping it in a neutral position, not tilted too far forward, so that the back of the legs can push your entire body forward. If the pelvis tilts too far forward some of the power is simply wasted stretching the low, deep abs. Here's an analogy that might help you:

Imagine you're trying to push a heavy trunk forward on a tile floor. The trouble is that you're standing on a small rug that starts to slide backward every time you try to push the trunk forward. Removing the rug allows your feet to get a more stable grip on the floor, so that more of your muscle energy is transferred to the trunk....the slipping rug is like deep abs that are not properly activated. Removing the rug is like tightening your deep abs so that your pelvis is stable, allowing more of your muscle work to translate into forward movement.

Many folks have weak deep abs because we sit all day and inevitably slouch, which deactivates those muscles and they become weak. So try to find your TVA right now.

  • Sit up straight (since I just said we all slouch too much you had to know that one was coming). Put your hands on your low ribs and inhale, feeling them expand (flare out to the sides). Don't raise your shoulders though (it might take a few times for you to get the hang of this).
  • Try to keep your low ribs wide as you exhale by pulling your navel to your spine (don't move your spine though). Think of pushing the air out of your lungs with the action of pulling the deeps abs toward the spine. Repeat for a while until it starts to feel "normal."
  • Keep practicing this action and not only will you start to strengthen your deep abs, you will increase your ability to breathe deeply by opening up the space between your side and back ribs.

Now every time you do any abdominal exercise you want to focus on the deep abs being active. So warm up your abs before you run, jog, walk, or use the Stair Stepper or Elliptical. Exercise mindfully and focus on your pelvic stability and keep checking in with your form. Bonus: Stabilizing the pelvis during running and running like activities will help you stay injury free.

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