At the end of January I set myself a couple of goals in my training for the month to come. Not being one to jump into a whole lot of different things all at once, I focused on continuing the good work I was already doing and adding in some additional exercises to strengthen my core.
Most every ultrarunning site I read around the traps mentions the benefits of core exercises for ultrarunners. A taste:
- Run Ultra: “A strong core will add miles and minutes to your legs. It may not seem it but it’s great ultra runners training. The work you put in to strengthening your abdominals and obliques will pay you back in full. Strength in this part of your body will hold your posture up and take some of the strain off your legs. Your body will be tighter and more co-ordinated.”
- Ultrarunning Magazine: “If you’re running a five km race, you can get away without strengthening your core, because you’re finished before your form can fall apart. When you’re running an ultramarathon distance though, it helps to have a strong core to carry you along mile after mile after mile.”
- Ultratraining Australia: “Core Exercises are essential to maintaining correct posture whilst running. Core Exercises prevent injuries and improve your balance whilst trail running.”
- Competitor.com: “Strong legs are a must for runners, but to become a more resilient athlete making sure you have strong core is key.”
As I was doing nothing in terms of strengthening my core, anything at all would be a start. So I set a goal: start at 100 crunches and four 30-second planks a day at the beginning of the month and graduate to 200 crunches and four 1-minute planks by the end of the month.
February is a month that plays nice when it comes to being broken up into weeks. At 28 days, I can step up each seven days until I am killing it in the last week. There’s no wimping out and building up a little slower until a final week of only two or three days where I go the whole hog. Nope: February has four weeks and I better be doing 200 crunches and minute-long planks all through week four.
So how did it go in week one? So far, so good.
I’ve tried doing the exercises a couple of different ways, both immediately after and at the other end of the day to my run. The first couple of days I did core exercises immediately following the run. I broke them up by doing 25 crunches and then dropping down for a plank, then repeating that set four times. I didn’t mind this but the outdoors doesn’t make for a very forgiving surface compared to a yoga mat indoors.
Most of the rest of the week I did the core work in the evening, either before dinner (good idea) or just after dinner (less good idea). I kept up the 4-sets of 25 crunches and one plank for a couple of days, and then in the last few days I went all out with the crunches from the start. As long as I held good form, I would do as many as I could before pausing and doing a plank. On Sunday I managed 70 crunches before my form started to go south, but on Monday and today I got all 100 crunches in without a break.
The planks, too, are getting a little easier. Not easy – no, definitely not easy – but easier. I don’t get the shakes as much and I don’t collapse at the end of the plank cursing my abdominal muscles. I can hold it for the 30 seconds, then drop down, rest a short time, and go again.
Now, at the end of the first week of February it’s time to step it up again:
- This week was 100 crunches a day so starting tomorrow it will be 133 crunches a day
- This week was four 30-second crunches so starting tomorrow it will be four 40-second planks
One week down, three to go…