30 October 2013

cut to the core

i'd like to think that (at least since serving as a camp 'sports director' in my young adult years) i've always been fitness-aware, if not actually fit myself.  from early morning workouts at the university of toronto field house gym to working out at home with weights to rec league volleyball and beyond, i've tried to give myself a decent shot at being in good shape.

now into my 40s and getting semi-serious about running, i can honestly say that i'm in the best shape of my life - probably conditioning-wise and in terms of overall physique.  and as i was chatting with my friend/training partner/pacer trevor a couple of weeks ago, i came to realize that it wasn't just about the miles put onto my legs.  he'd commented that just recently he's been working on increasing stability by focusing on core work and other upper-body exercises.  my other friend/training partner mike has just started the Focus T25 workout with his wife and talked to me last weekend about how challenging it has been so far.

i guess that i just thought that things like pushups, crunches, planks, and other exercises were just fundamental building blocks for any level of fitness.  so they've been part of my lifestyle for a while now.

bodyweight exercises are what i find work best for me.  i remember hearing a story about how herschel walker (have you seen the guy?  and he's into his 50s!) doesn't use any weights aside from bodyweight for his workouts.  there are variations to this story, but the bottom line is that he predominantly focuses on pushups, situps and other calisthenics.  

right then and there i thought "if i can look and perform anything like this guy when i'm 50, i'm going to stick with pushups".

and so i have.

i like to keep it fresh, so i've got a variety of pushups and core exercises that i use as my standard go-tos - and i mix it up depending on the day of the week:
  • pushups - standard, (three-point contact) fingertip, (three-point contact) diamond, (three-point contact) elbows-in, (three-point contact) elbows-out, tricep dips
  • cross-body crunches
  • planks:  knee-reach, spider-man, side leg-lift

here are two of my fav videos for bodyweight workout ideas ... this first one i really dig because (as my kids will attest) i'm the kind of guy you find trying to do exercises on the local playground equipment:

i've yet to really focus on running-specific strength workouts, which could be the next step in the evolution of my running performance.  for now, the pieces that i do have to complement the training distances seem to be helping me get to and stay in a good place.

now what do you think about this:  malcolm gladwell believes that mo farah will be a better marathoner if he loses his biceps.  while core and upper-body exercises are a good complement to running, will they compromise my potential to be the best road racer that i can be?  

maybe i'm setting myself up to be more suited for trail running or being an ultramarathoner.

anyway, i'd love to hear what your training staples are, and why i should consider adding them into the mix!


  1. I think you probably are setting yourself up for trail/ultra running. There's a clear difference between the stick-like Kenyan marathoners and people like Timothy Olson, who is frankly ripped.

    I suspect that for the longer races you _need_ to have core and upper body strength to protect yourself from poor form and injury in the later miles.

    1. thanks for the comment trevor! i think that you already know about my thoughts on giving trail/ultra running a shot next year. i'm sure that the core work will make a difference in transitioning off-road - but there are also some more 'muscular' elite marathoners like feyisa lilesa out there, so all hope is not lost. :)

  2. Nice post Patrick. Almost without fail, I do some sort of resistance training 3x week pretty much year-round. They can range from hitting the weights in a gym or more often, body weight stuff like you talk about (lots of push-up variations, chin-up variations, core work like planks, swiss ball exercises, squats, lunges, etc). I believe that it not only helps me run faster but also keeps me from getting injured.

    I also have a TRX set that I bring with me almost everywhere, especially since I travel a lot. If you have money for only one piece of training equipment then this has to be it.

    1. thanks for feeding back stan! i'm pretty sure that i caught wind of a bodyweight exercise video from a post of yours too. i've certainly heard and read all about the importance of strengthwork for runners - especially in the effort to continue training long distances injury free.

      the TRX looks handy - i may have to invest in that!