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The Myth of Core Function in Running | Boddicker Performance

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The Myth of Core Function in Running

by on May 11th, 2010

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The emphasis of “core” training and particularly the emphasis on training the core as an anti-rotation, anti-flexion, and anti-extension entity has reached a point where we have overreacted and, as coaches, may potentially be harming our athletic development.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not coming down and saying that we are over emphasizing core training and that we shouldn’t be training it in the weight room with respect to said functions.  Instead, I’m asserting that those who hear their favorite coach talk about the Joint by Joint idea or talk about lumbo-pelvic-hip complex stability are often applying great concepts without full command of the theory behind them and an understanding of the true dynamic requirements placed upon the core during sprinting and running.  Yes, the lumbar spine and pelvis should be “stable” and under control of the neuromuscular system during gait, but stable does not equal no motion at all.

I’ll share an example that may help better elucidate my point.  Last week I watched a talented athlete (and also coach) train with the mistaken belief that there should be no motion at all at the pelvis or lumbar spine and the only motion that was to occur was driving in flexion and extension in the sagittal plane.  To battle it, she explained to a passer-by that the only way to improve your speed and ability to drive though the extremities is to get “harder” though the core.  When the athlete ran she looked as though she was a robot who was spending more energy in the effort to try not to use excess energy.

Plain and simple, I believe strongly that it was a result of a lack of understanding of the legitimate needs of LPH complex stability during gait and little command on the mechanics of running.  First of all, not only is it nearly impossible to restrict pelvic motion in all planes during sprinting, but incredibly irresponsible.  The pelvis HAS to move for efficient gait, when the innominate, lumbar spine, and sacrum torsion and change positions appropriately during gait there is elastic loading that occurs at a number of structures around the innominate and elsewhere.  Additionally, the free half of the pelvis MUST elevate in the frontal plane during the swing phase with the help of the lumbar erectors for proper elastic unloading of the ITB and there has to be some transverse plane movement of the femur to adequately load the hip extensors.  Without all of this in place, the stride becomes majorly esoteric, and you’re going to get hurt far sooner despite your “great core stability.”

The next gripe I have with the no motion idea is that it demonstrates a supreme lack of understanding of the core itself.  By this time, you’ve all read about the differences between the inner and outer units of the core, so I won’t belabor the point, but I’ll frame it in another way.  The inner unit are seen by some as “local stabilizers” which contribute to about 20% of your core stability when functioning well and can do the job of core stability without much input from the outer core in plain ol’ activity.  The outer core is a combination of global stabilizers and mobilizers that have a role in more “gross” movement.  To achieve appropriate core stability during running, a person really only needs about 20% MVIC of the core stabilizers, which provides stability but will allow movement.  By cuing no motion, you feed into a high threshold strategy of the global musculature.  Additionally, Bosch and Klomp discuss the roll of the abdominal wall as not only one that helps maintain pelvic position, but as a sensory organ.  When they are stretched into extension, they theorize that a neurological feedback loop occurs with the iliacus and psoas to begin hip flexion.

While core stability is important and the joint by joint theory is appropriate, we need to realize that there is much more to the idea and before blindly overreacting, we need to be sure that there is at least some reasoning behind why you do what you do.  Remember, by attempting to avoid motion in its entirety, we may miss the boat in performance.


Carson Boddicker

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Leave a Comment »5 Comments
  • Tim Vagen May 11, 2010

    Great post, Carson. I think that we also have to realize that the core needs to work in what I call a “reactive” mode. This is that the core should only work as hard as it has to for the given task. Your example of the coach running and overworking the core is very true. The core works to stabilize the spine. If the spine needs a lot of stabilization during the task, the core works hard, if the spine doesn’t get many forces on it, the core only works a little.

  • SnippetPhysTher May 12, 2010

    Seriously, Carson… a coach/trainer really, really did not want trunk movements and expected a rigid trunk? Oh, my… I’m speechless. 😉


  • Chi May 17, 2010


    Excellent post! As Einstein already told us, make things as simple as possible, but not simpler than that. We need to make a little distinction between rotaton en torsion. You need pelvic torsion at a range of 4 degrees to walk efficient (Perry J 1994) and to ‘ feed’ the discs (Van Deurssen J 2003). Rotation (> 4 degrees) however will hurt the performance of an endurance runner, because it increases the ground contact moment. This is good for sprinting not endurance.

    ~ Chi

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