By Keith Bateman
Runners are often told to engage their core. But engaged core, and other postural muscles are a result of good technique, not a pathway to good technique.
When observing runners with good technique you will often see the following: cadence in the range of 180-190 for most speeds; hips and feet flying higher off the ground; shorter ground-contact time; and a good physique which comes from the balanced, natural use of muscles, including the glutes, core and all other postural muscles.
But all of these observations – including the active core muscles – are a by-product of good technique, not something to be concentrated on individually to create overall good running form.
So why are the core muscles engaged on a good runner? It’s predominately about the landing. A good runner’s near-vertical landing, combined with flat shoes, allows the spine to remain neutral. With the spine neutral the core muscles will fully engage automatically without conscious thought.
As mentioned, flat shoes are an important factor in this mechanism. If shoes have a drop, that is, they are higher at the heel than the forefoot, it will result in landing in a semi-squat position (For more detail on why this is the case, please consult the book). By landing this way your glutes and other postural muscles cannot function as they should. Even if you actively try to engage the core muscles it will not correct the bad landing caused by inappropriate footwear, and running with the best technique will not be possible.
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.