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Lean Muscle Building for the Core


Question:

I am a marathon runner who now wants to run on occasion, and I want to start building up my core with lean muscle. What is the best way for me to see some results?

Answer:

Now that you've decided to cut down on your mileage, it is a good thing you want to increase your "function" by strengthening your core. However, "aesthetics" should not be your main focus or concern here. Essentially, NEURAL adaptations (i.e., functionality) should become your primary focus rather than absolute strength goals or aesthetics. Training isolated movements for aesthetics (i.e., crunches, sit ups, etc.) leads to serious muscular imbalances that can in turn lead to visceral (i.e. internal organ) dysfunction. Regarding aesthetics, you must understand that there is no such thing as "spot reduction" of fat with exercises, which means one CANNOT crunch stomach fat away nor can one ab/adduct thigh fat away. I have a favorite excerpt from Paul Chek that I like to use when explaining this:

"There is no metabolic pathway from the muscle cells in your midsection to the fat cells surrounding them. For the abdominal muscles to use stored fat for energy, your body must first send it to the liver. The liver converts this fat into fatty acids and sends it back to the abdominal muscles to be used as fuel. Unfortunately, the stored fat the abdominal muscles use first may not be from the abdominal region. (In fact, it’s possible the energy to perform an abdominal exercise may come from fat stores in your arms.) This is because your body uses its fat stores such that the last place you added fat to it is the first place you will lose it. This order is genetically determined and influenced by sex and age. For example, the females in one family may tend to store fat on their hips while the males tend to store fat on their waist."

Extreme mileage runners like yourself tend to develop a fairly predictable pattern of tightness/injury due to the high volume of repetitive stress that your sport involves. Your program should be hinged on a great and consistent flexibility program to begin to correct any muscular imbalances you have undoubtedly developed. The flexibility and core exercises you implement in your program will need to be discovered via an integrated assessment. This assessment should focus on your:

  1. Current nutritional status (how well and/or poor your quantity and quality of food is... etc.)
  2. Musculoskeletal Screen (to discover muscular/postural imbalances so as to determine which muscles to stretch/lengthen and which muscles to shorten/strengthen)
  3. Lifestyle analysis (determines which of the various types of STRESS are preventing you from feeling/looking your best)

I would highly recommend getting the help of a professional, preferably a C.H.E.K Practitioner or a certified NASM Trainer. If you're determined to go it alone, than I would recommend reading the "related articles" below and at right as well as Paul Chek's book How to Eat, Move & Be Healthy! I highly recommend this book for anyone and everyone who is looking for an "easy to understand" resource detailing the true science(s) behind exercise, nutrition and lifestyle factors for a strong and healthy life and body.