Most, if not all, athletic movements require you to activate your core group of muscles to help complete the movement. From a quarterback’s throw to the pedal stroke of a cyclist, your core provides you with the stability and power needed through every motion. Every time you lift your leg, you rely on core muscles to do so. Each time you hop a log with a bicycle, ride through technical terrain, or make a turn, you rely on core muscles. So during a long ride or a race, a core that fatigues fast will lead to weaker legs, upper torso, and arms, which will lead to a loss of power, loss of coordination, and a slower effort. A weaker core will ultimately reduce your overall potential as an athlete.
Building endurance requires a repetitive movement such as the repetitive movements used to run or ride a bike. When you think about it, while you’re running or riding your bike, your legs are moving anywhere between 4000 to 6000 repetitions an hour. That’s a lot of movement. Moving your legs that often over hours and hours of time builds endurance.
So, when speaking about core strength for an endurance athlete, you must keep endurance in mind. Focusing on a strong core that can complete five or six repetitions with max power will focus on gains within energy systems and muscle fibers that fatigue at a faster rate. An endurance athlete needs a core that is aerobically strong, because their actions happen over longer periods of time, over many hours and even days. So, you want core strength that is built for endurance.
The more aerobically trained muscles you have, the more potential you have to clear the build up of lactic acid (lactic acid – Product of the energy process – now viewed as having both potential positive and negative effects towards energy production within the muscle). So building endurance is as important in your core as in all other regions of the body. The more aerobically trained your arms, shoulders, neck and back are, the more places you will have to clear build-up of lactic acid, and the less fatigue those muscles will experience over a long race effort. Keep in mind that hard efforts may build lactic acid within the legs, but it is cleared throughout the entire body. So the more aerobically trained muscles you have, the better.
The best way to train all parts of the body is through working with a full range of motion while strength training. A bench press, for example, will only work your arms and shoulders through a fixed range of motion. Compare that to a Turkish Get Up (Video of a Turkish Get Up) where you press a kettle bell overhead while lying on the ground and then gradually stand while holding the kettle bell over head. The standing movement requires your shoulder(s) to rotate, which works more range of motion compared to a bench press. An exercise like the Turkish Get Up is also a full body movement that focuses on your entire core.
A great way to gain core strength and work full range of motion with many repetitions and longer durations is through practices that primarily use body weight such as yoga and pilates, for example. Ashtanga and power yoga are styles of yoga that are faster flowing, continuous, and challenging. Yoga is hands down one of the best way to work for aerobic strength gains throughout the entire body. Not only do you focus on many repetitions such as with pushups, squats, and lunges, you work each joint in a full range of motion while doing so, which focuses on core endurance, stability, and flexibility.
A core group of muscles that fatigues less will allow you to work with increased power ranges for a longer period of time while running or riding a bike. With more range of motion, increased flexibility, and a stronger core, you will not only feel better before, during and after each workout, you will be slightly more productive as well. Pedaling with slightly more power two to three hours into a ride, or a few hours into a run, is how you make further gains in endurance and aerobic strength. With as few as one to two workouts a week through the winter months and early season, you can make great gains in core strength. The time you spend working on it now will greatly pay off throughout the entire year.