Martial artists long have recognized the importance of well-developed core musculature. One of the main differences between a novice practitioner and a black belt is the black belt's development and use of his core (called “center” or “Ki”) to produce balanced, powerful, and explosive movements. For middle- and long-distance runners—whose chosen sport involves balanced and powerful movements of the body propelling itself forward and catching itself in complex motor patterns—this stable core, as well as a strong foundation of muscular balance, is essential. In many runners, however—even those at an Olympic level—this core musculature is not developed fully. Weakness or lack of sufficient coordination in core musculature can lead to less efficient movements, compensatory movement patterns, strain, overuse, and injury. This article discusses the importance of muscle balance and core stability for injury prevention and for improving a distance runner's efficiency and performance. It includes a detailed series of core exercises that can be incorporated gradually into a runner's training program. The program starts with restoration of normal muscle length and mobility to correct any muscle imbalances. Next, fundamental lumbo-pelvic stability exercises are introduced which teach the athlete to activate the deeper core musculature. When this has been mastered, advanced lumbo-pelvic stability exercises on the physioball are added for greater challenge. As the athlete transitions to the standing position, sensory motor training is used to stimulate the subcortex and provides a basis for functional movement exercises that promote balance, coordination, precision, and skill acquisition. The ultimate goal of core stabilization is to train “movements” and “positions” rather than muscles. Exercises are most effective when they mirror the demands of the athlete's sport.
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