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A runner/ cyclist’s perspective on the importance of the ever popular core workout.

-Written by Chris Winter

In the winter of 2007 my friend Matt Joiner finally convinced me to buy my first road bike. After having run my first marathon just months before, the Rocket City Marathon in Huntsville, AL,  I was eager to tackle a new challenge and racing bikes seemed as good a challenge as any. Matt did the weekly club rides and I soon found myself showing up to each one ready to ride hard and test my limits. It would be several years, four to be exact, however, before I found myself fully committed to train for my first serious challenge as an entry level road racer; the River Gorge Omnium in Chattanooga, TN.

With its short steep hills and long gradual climbs, the road race, time trial and criterium seemed the perfect fit for me. The 40 mile road race finished at Racoon Mountain. A 5k climb with an average gradient around 5%-6%. Racoon Mountain can chew up and spit out novice and advanced riders alike. The one thing I had at my advantage was my weight. Since I was so light and running had given a strong aerobic base I handled the climb well and finished the road race in second place and won the category 5 omnium as a result. My result was nothing compared to the higher level racers and I soon found myself searching for ways to improve my fitness so I could reach new levels of racing.

I believe the above story is one we can all relate to. We all move from challenge to challenge, searching for ways to improve as endurance athletes, or at least ways to better enjoy the activities that bring us joy and excitement. However, more times than not, endurance athletes, and specifically runners and cyclists, look for these improvements to come by simply running or riding more and more. And while all research indicates that this type of mentality and training does help, it is not the only thing we should be embracing. 

In recent years the importance of core workouts and strength training have gained serious momentum as endurance athletes search for improvement. In my own running and cycling experience I have gleaned several lessons and seen improvement by adding bi-weekly core sessions to my training. Here are just a few.

First and foremost, core training strengthens one of the most important parts of the body for runners and cyclists alike, THE CORE! This area of the body is a stabilizer for every significant movement we make and improving the muscular strength and endurance of this area allows for our bodies to endure the increasing demands of all the challenges we embrace. By developing core strength we free up other areas of our body to function more efficiently.

A strong core means a strong mind.  When I started adding core workout to my training it only took a few weeks before I noticed that my mental toughness improved as well. As soon as I entered the “pain cave” (that area of hurt that there is no escape from) I found that I was not only able to endure physically, but mentally as well. The hills did not seem as steep and the pace did not seem as fast. 

Injuries are few and far between.  There is no doubt that as endurance athletes we will encounter some form of minor or major injury in the course of our activities. However, in my experience, adding consistent core workouts keeps all injuries at bay and allows us to keep doing what we love. 

So take the chance to add core workouts to your training. The benefits far outweigh the costs. And who knows, maybe the next time you lace up the shoes for your goal marathon or clip into the pedals for that 100 mile ride, you will be able to enjoy it just a little bit more.

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