Having a solid core is important. It is the chassis from which your legs move. It works with your spine to support and stabilise your thorax (chest cavity) which contains your engine.
The lower part of your tummy, from about the belly-button (umbilicus) down can be held in using muscle tension. Learn this by standing quietly with the flat of your hand on this area and trying to pull slowly straight backwards towards your spine. Don’t worry if this region is a little curvy on you, this will improve over time and the muscles are still in there, trust me.
When you get the hang of what that feels like, it is time to try it out when running. Once you are warmed up and wondering which fancy technique to try next, give it a go.
I recommend starting on the flat, not on a hill climb. Hold your head erect, with shoulders relaxed and a nice quick cadence. Slowly bring the lower belly backwards, flattening it towards your spine. Hold this for a count of five and relax. Repeat this for half a minute.
Next time, try it for just a little longer. Over the next few weeks keep building up the time you can hold the belly in.
This can be practised at work and in the supermarket. In bus queues and while sitting in traffic jams. Once you’ve worked on and toned these muscles you will find the lower back feels nicer too, as it is only effective if this is held firm (you will find yourself doing this automatically).
If you measure your pace, you may be pleasantly surprised to notice this improves by as much as ten percent with no increase in perceived effort.
This is because when you have a nice firm core, the biomechanics work better with less wasted muscle effort and fewer extraneous movements.
Do it while racing as a little check-in exercise every five minutes to bring focus back to your form. Particularly towards the end of a race, when fatigue can cause a rapid decrease in form with dramatic speed loss despite increasing effort. Channelling this effort to its very best use simply makes good sense.
Pilates involves excellent techniques for working on muscles to support your core. The instructor tells you to engage your core. They position your back and get your pelvis tilted at the best angle. They get you to bring your belly in and breathe from your diaphragm. Then you engage the pelvic floor.
Engaging the pelvic floor helps with running. Bringing your belly in by engaging lots of muscles to stabilise your pelvis and hips will make you a better runner. You will tone-up nicely too.
When you try to hold in a wee or a poop, you are engaging your pelvic floor muscles. Learning to control this and engage them at will can take a bit of practice. The best exercise for ladies and chaps alike, is to start and stop your urinary flow. The next time you go for a wee, try this. Try to use muscles that allow you to start and stop the stream. Although it takes a bit of getting used to, if you try this every time you visit the bathroom, you will gain more than enough practice.
The next time you are running and tighten your lower abdominals, pull that pelvic floor up a bit too.