I’ve used core training as part of my running for many years. I have always, at a minimum, worked in some pushups and situps into my training.
For the past two years or so I upped the ante on the core doing a full set of chest, arms, shoulders, abs, etc 2 or 3 times a week. I found this allowed me to maintain form and conserve energy, especially late in a marathon when things got a little dicey.
This summer I’m doing a lot of biking. I’m planning on a mountain bike ultra or two this autumn. What I found in my previous mountain bike ultra-distance races is that core is incredibly important. In the Wilderness 101 I suffered immensely because my core burned out early in the first couple hours of the race leaving me defensly to the buffeting.
A technical mountain bike course requires maneuvering your body weight, on a bike, around, over and through roots, rocks, logs, bogs, and every other kind of nasty stuff you can imagine. If you don’t have core strength and endurance you lose the ability to react to the course.
What do we mean when we say “Core”? We are talking about major muscle groups and we are talking about a combination of strength and endurance. Arms, chest, abdominal, back, shoulders, and yes, glutes and legs.
But as endurance athletes we are not talking about traditional weight lifting. We are not looking to build bulk. We are looking to be able to hold a crouch and grip the handlebars while zooming down a mountain for minutes at a time.
This means the core work you need is not heavy weights. It is with lighter weights, even just body weight, for high repetitions. Being able to do 300 squats is going to help you out in a mountain bike race more than being able to dead-lift 300 pounds twice.
I have been using a total body workout 2-3 times a week that takes about 40 minutes and hits every core muscle group. I also work in the 100 pushups – 200 situps routine as well. Since I’m not running this summer I can do more reps with my legs and have worked Squats and lunges which also are perfect for mountain biking.
What I do is mash up the core workout with the 100 pushups sets and the 100 lunges sets then on the alternate days do the 200 situps with the 200 squats.
The result is that I don’t get tired as fast and retain the ‘pop’ in my core muscles much longer into a ride. They recover faster as well – which you need when you’re out in the woods for 8+ hours cranking away through all that gnarly stuff.
If you have not tried it I think you should do a cycle of core work. Take a 2-3 month training cycle, like you would train for a marathon and build a core training plan. The side benefit is that it makes your clothes fit well and it makes you feel sexy! Well, maybe not sexy, but you will feel fit.