Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coolis to the Core

I used to be one of those distance runners whose idea of strength training was running hill repeats. I did so much LSD that I considered anything fast to be anaerobic. Then I met Dennis Barrett (McGill track coach), who introduced me to the world of deadlifts, chin-ups and core strength. I got about 3min faster over 5k in three years, and suffered no significant injuries during this time...not that I ever managed to do a chin-up or a deadlift! Ha! But I WAS forced to incorporate resistance training into my routine, and as a result my strength, coordination and running speed improved dramatically.

Core strength should be part of any distance runner’s training program. A strong core is central to a strong running body, as it balances out muscle groups and prevents wear and tear on joints, thereby preventing injury. Importantly, core strength is not about doing billions of crunches at lightning speed – it is about consciously engaging your abdominals and the muscles surrounding them, including your spine, glutes, hamstrings and quads. Exercising them in a slow, controlled motion is the best way to engage your core. There are many core exercises out there, so if you hate my suggested plank holds (below) keep in mind that they are only one way of cutting the...core?

This is a video of me demonstrating some core exercises for Canadian Running Magazine. I think the video sends out the right message, but I advise drinking some Red Bull before attempting to watch it. I think the videographers put an enthusiasm filter on their lens. I VIVIDLY recall doing this video laughing, smiling, joking and EXCLAIMING about how much I loved the Coolis Core Workout. I imagined myself demonstrating the front plank hold in dramatic fashion, hunching my shoulders to the sky and wildly dropping my hips to ground (I think I mastered the Booty Tooch (Hoochie Tooch?), however. Uh-huh.). Where did this dead-pan, bored un-Coolis come from?! I am not even sure at what points I am trying to tell a joke because I am speaking in such painstaking monotony. Perhaps the only hint of humour is when I remind the audience that ‘When your form breaks, so should you’ -  a line that at the time I thought was absolutely hilarious but now realize is actually NOT A JOKE. What is wrong with me?

What is more is that my brain was usurped along with my personality. I don’t think I could recall the appropriate name for a single exercise (or add to 10min?). Leg dips. LEG DIPS? Are those a real thing? It’s a good thing this was a video and not an audiotape, otherwise I would have runners splashing their legs into puddles or doing squats instead of plank variations. Or how about ‘back leg raises’? opposed to...front leg raises? I think the problem was that I had myself confused with a four-legged creature, and adjusted my mental capabilities along with my anatomical makeup. After all, I go so far as to incorporate knee-sitting into the workout, which I am pretty sure is an impossible feat for a human.

Despite these minor details, I do hope runners can get some use out of this video. And please ignore the eye-rolling at 1:23, that was a bitch look subconsciously directed at myself, not you awesome viewers!

This video was actually shot as part of a larger shoot, which altogether was a ton of fun. Unfortunately, it came at a time when my core wasn’t feeling its coolist. In fact, I looked like I was on the verge of giving birth the night before (one word: hormones).  So what does a balloon-bellied, raging emotional Coolis do the night before her photoshoot? Take some GAS-X, get some exercise, drink some water and get lots of sleep? Why, of course not! The only logical thing to do in my head was to out with my girlfriend for steak and martinis and bitch about my discomfort! Suffice to say I woke up (fell out of bed?) the next morning not feeling *particularly* primed for the camera. I tried to console myself by the fact that I would be wearing running clothes and not a bikini. Unfortunately, I arrived at the photoshoot only to find out I would be sporting a sports bra and spandex shorts. Nice. ‘Maybe they can photoshop my abs?’ I continued to console myself. All sense of security was lost, however, when the photographer began to yell ‘Tighten your abs! Abs TIGHT! Suck in the ABS!!’ with increasing intensity as the shoot went on. ‘Oh dear,’ I thought to myself, ‘the bloating is definitely not in my head.’ Compound this with the fact that I have not run in months and am jogging endless laps across a park, and you can start to envision the breathing difficulties I was encountering. Have you ever tried sucking in, gasping for air and smiling simultaneously?! I felt like a glowing pregnant woman having an asthma attack. This would be uncomfortable under normal situations, but was especially intrusive when I was supposed to look like a gazelle gliding effortlessly across the grass. This went on for about an hour, until eventually the yells for tighter abs changed to hurrahs for a good shot. Thank the lord! I also ended up with a t-shirt on by the end of it (I HAVE NO IDEA WHY).

So although I can’t guarantee flat abs at all times, I can say that the Coolis Core workout will help you be a better overall runner. If you want to get a more accurate idea of the 10-minute core routine (despite the excellence shown in this video), check out the September issue of Canadian running (p.69, obvi) for a full description of the workout!