By Keith Bateman and Heidi Jones
Runners are often told to engage their core to obtain good technique. But engaged core, and other postural muscles are a result of good technique, not a cause of good technique. Concentrating on activating core muscles is not only unnecessary, it can be a distraction from what you should really be thinking about while trying to obtain good form.
It is true, when observing runners with good technique you will often see that the core muscles are engaged. But they are not running well because they have engaged the core muscles, the core muscles are engaged because they are running well.
This means that when trying to run well you should not be concentrating on trying to activate the core muscles, because the core muscles will activate once you have attained a good running form.
So why are the core muscles engaged on a good runner? It’s the result of a balanced landing. A good runner’s near-vertical landing, combined with flat shoes, allows the spine to remain neutral. A neutral spine will cause core muscles to fully engage automatically without conscious thought.
Flat shoes are critical in attaining a neutral spine and hence an automatic core activation. If shoes have a drop, that is, they are higher at the heel than the forefoot, they will cause the wearer to run in a semi-squat position (See our book for a detailed explanation of this process). By landing in this semi-squat position the glutes and other postural muscles cannot function as they should. Actively trying to engage the core muscles to compensate for a bad landing caused by inappropriate footwear will be ineffective and correct running form will be impossible.
So, in summary, don’t worry about engaging the core muscles. Simply concentrate on a balanced, near-vertical landing and the core muscles will activate without you trying. It’s just one thing less to worry about.