A strong, stabilized core is crucial to proper running technique. Explosive workouts are helpful because they are a way to gain some speed and strength without having to run additional miles. Such workouts are also helpful to reduce risk of injury
Let's get one thing out of the way, right now. Yes, I am doing an abs focused workout once a week. But no, it won't help my running in any meaningful way. It will, however, help feed my vanity- which is all of my reason to do it. Embarking on a training program activates a greater sense of discipline, which I am also using to assuage my vanity on the side.
I'm also using this opportunity to get in one or two short workouts each week to strengthen my upper body. It also won't really help my running, but if I am feeling more disciplined in the moment I am going to take full advantage.
Back to my first big point: the muscles strengthened by abs workouts are not the muscles that help runners create a strong balanced core. To accomplish that, I am turning to Pilates. With its focus on the “powerhouse” or core, careful proper technique, and breathing, Pilates is ideally suited for runners looking to reduce the risk of injuries, develop greater range of motion and flexibility, and mold a strong enduring core. I'll be doing a workout from Pilates Anatomy by Isacowitz and Clippinger twice a week to this end (details in a future article once I see how helpful it is as well).
The second major consideration is gaining some explosiveness. My hill sprints and fartleks will also help to this end, but getting in some work like plyometrics will add to this. Explosiveness will help with raw speed and strength, which after several years of only easy distance runs are needed to remind my body that I can do something other than easy distance runs.
My workout, or at least the starting point, will be identical to this workout posted on Runner's World. There are many other exercises I can slip in, but the six exercises are a good easy start. These include box jumps, switch lunges, bounds, and rocket jumps.
If it feels good after a couple weeks to have done this two or three times a week, I will progress to something more involved. There are many similar exercises, and more involved circuits such as a series involving short sprints in between various drill and other exercises. Alternatively, I may decide that my body is explosive enough for a half marathon- which admittedly doesn't need to be that explosive unless I run it at an elite level. Such goals are the topic of the next article, but suffice it to say that 11 weeks is not enough time to build up to elite level running, regardless of talent or background.
So there you have it. Cross training that addresses core strength and stability as well as providing some explosiveness are the two main considerations in my estimation.
I wrote this at the article at the very beginning of my training sequence. So here I'd like to tell you what adjustments I've made to that whole plan.
On the vanity side, I did the abs workout for a week or two. However, it did not make me sore or tired to do it so I felt like it wasn't really adding anything. I could have come up with a variety of ab circuits and done that, but since its not crucial to the training I haven't done that.
I started to do an upper body workout, but the one I chose was so difficult I opted out of it pretty much immediately. This is one reason to write down what you intend to do alongside the primary training because this is an opportunity to reconsider whether I will add that in. Upon consideration, I won't because its not directly relevant to my ability to run a half marathon well.
On the core side, I never actually did the Pilates workout. It was mostly purely out of laziness, but I'm also already very capable of using the runs themselves to strengthen my core in that regard. So in that way, core strengthening actually became a part of my runs- especially hilly runs.
I also passed on the plyometrics for the most part, although I did hill sprints and fartleks for the first four weeks in order to build explosiveness that way. I also found that sprints made my hamstrings just on my right side sore and tight for several days. I intend to return to those once I correct the cause of that issue. For me, the action I am taking is help with a Reposturing (link) expert who uses bodywork and auxiliary exercises to balance and restructure the body to a high level of performance. Once I feel my hips functioning to an equal and balanced degree, I will probably be able to resume the sprints in a safe manner.
I'm a little embarrassed to admit all the above, but in all reality this is what happens as a training plan progresses. I faced an injury for several weeks that forced me to minimize my activities down to what was crucial for my progression. However, taking a look at this a month later does tell me that it may be time to consider some version of cross training once again. For me, that may be dancing. Its fun, social, and gets every part of my body. After all, there's no need to pick things one doesn't like when there are so many options for rounded fitness out there!