Strengthening the Core in the Off Season

Male doing a plank
January 30, 2017

Jim Hallberg


As athletes, we often focus much of our training on swim, bike, and run; especially when pushed for time, we tend to negate some other very important steps we can take to make us better, stronger athletes and less injury prone.

One such small workout we can do that I feel has a big importance is some core work. When I mention core, I am not talking about 500 sit-ups. Its not just about the multiple abdominal muscles, but all the stabilizing muscles including erector spinae, obliques, serratus anterior, glutes, piriformis and so on: the trunk from below the rib cage to above the quads, front and back. The reason for this is that our power development really comes from our core. If we practice some balance exercises and we realize that we are a bit unstable and wobbly it should lead us to questioning our core stability. We can ºt possibly produce efficient and strong power if the mid section of our body can ºt support the power we want to generate with our arms or legs. It ºs about resisting the counter production of our arms and legs in power producing exercises.

Let’s take swimming for example. The beginning of each swim stroke begins with the core. The core is the foundation for a strong and powerful pull. If we pull with a weak core, we flex and bend and, in turn, wiggle through the water. By tightening up the core we can engage in a strong and powerful stroke through the water.

In cycling, whether climbing or putting more power into the pedal in a strong Time Trial performance- if our core is weak- we cannot produce an extended amount of power nor can we actually put out the power we are truly capable of producing. We will collapse at the core because essentially we are trying to provide structure and support to the resistance of the pedal. Stability at the core is also good for bike handling and cornering.

In running, we want to focus on a nice tall posture. A weak core causes us to fade and lean over at the waist because our erector spinae are not strong enough for good support. Our form will weaken and the push-off phase of the run will suffer.

You want to make your body- your core- into a steel rod rather than a noodle. With a nice strong tall spine, we can expect to produce sufficiently more power.

The first step you can take is good posture: walk, sit and do all your training activities with a nice tall mid-section. Walk by a mirror- are you slightly hunched over? Walk tall and proud with your abdominals slightly engaged.

The following are some good examples you can do to make the core solid and strong for a higher power output and sustained power output in all 3 disciplines.

Planks: In a push-up position but while being supported with your elbows and toes, support your body in a nice tight lean position. Don ºt let the hips rise or fall.

You can add difficulty by bringing your right knee to right elbow for 10 reps, and then switch to left knee to left elbow, but don ºt raise those hips!

Planks can also be done on a body/ physio ball.

In order to engage your glutes and hamstrings and to strengthen the hip area do the following: Lie on your back with feet extended. Bring your right leg up and place your right heel near your left knee.

Make your body strong and tight and drive through your heel to raise your hip off the ground. Repeat this for a 10 reps, but hold at the top for a half-count. You should feel your hamstrings and glutes engaged

Switch legs and repeat.

I also like slow-count bicycles. These are done lying on your back and alternately extending

your left leg and then your right leg, while bringing the opposite elbow to the opposite knee. I would recommend 10 reps with a hold in the middle, so 10 reps should take 25-30 seconds.

I also suggest single-leg exercises such as squats with little or no weight to work on balance. Do these

nice and slow.

Single leg dead- lifts are great, too: With feet together and some weight in your hands, you can reach down toward your knees while bringing 1 leg straight back and perpendicular to the floor and then slowly back to start position.

Coach Jim’s Core Strengthening Rules:

  • I would recommend 2-3 days a week of core work exercises.
  • Each day should include 2-3 sets of each exercise around 8-12 reps.
  • When starting out, you should be doing each exercise for about 15 seconds.
  • Rest 15 seconds between each exercise.
  • Plan on doing all routines 2x through for the first week and 3x through for the 3rd week.
  • I would start adding about 5 seconds of time to each exercise and then adding on the 3rd set once you are comfortable.This will get you started on having a nice strong core! Good luck!

Coach Jim Hallberg notices that some athletes spend too much time focusing solely on their strengths or just on their weaknesses. As a coach, he believes you should work on both. Your strengths can give you a competitive edge in one or more of the disciplines but spend an inordinate amount of time on them and you can forgo progress in other areas. Not enough time and you’ll see them diminish. Same with your weaknesses.  Coach Jim works with you to build a plan to balance the two and make you the best overall athlete you can be!

Coach Jim is a 5X USA Triathlon National Champion, a USA Triathlon Level II Certified Coach and USA Cycling Level II Certified Coach.

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