The 3 Most Effective Core Exercises You’re Not Doing

The core’s primary function is to brace and stabilize your spine. During endurance sports like running, cycling and swimming, your ability to keep your spine in a solid, braced position will have tremendous impacts on your speed and power. If that’s not enough to convince you to throw these moves into your next workout, bulletproofing your trunk (core), is a great way to keep injuries at bay and keep you going longer and faster.

Now, you probably know that you should be including core exercises into your training regimen. You probably even do a fair share of plank variations, sit ups and crunches. Here are our 3 favorite non-conventional ways to train the core for endurance athletes (and everyone else).


  1. Loaded Carry Variations

I’m a believer that simple always wins when it comes to strength training. It can’t get much simpler than this – carry heavy stuff around. There are dozens on variations, and array of all of them is best. I will explain our 3 favorite below.

First, why loaded carries? Because they cover a lot at once, they’re easy to learn and difficult to do. Loaded carries can improve your hip stability, core strength, improve shoulder stability and upper back strength and build your conditioning by mixing them into your strength workouts.

Farmer’s Carry – stand with two dumbbells or kettlebells, squeeze the handles, slightly pull shoulders back and maintain a slight bend in the elbow. Then, keeping upright and not letting the weight sway you around, walk. Try for 30 seconds in between a lower body strength movement or try to accumulate 3-5 minutes as a finisher for a workout.


Suitcase Carry – same rules as the farmer’s, except done unilaterally. Focus on not leaning away from the kettlebell and walking in a straight line. Keep the weight away from your body and don’t let it come in contact with your leg.  Fighting this rotation builds your strength while running to resist the urge to rotate too much while fatigued.

Goblet Carry – A goblet carry is done by carrying the weight held on your chest. This variation is a favorite of mine for people who like to over arch their back while running. This exposes you and allows you to feel what a neutral spine is like while running. We cue athletes to crunch forward while maintaining a tall posture.


  1. Deadbugs

Speaking of over extending the back while running, dead bugs are a go to for people who over arch too much to find stability and teaches a way to find stability in a more neutral position. The carry over to running is that you learn to get more range of motion from your hips (where we want to it) and not so much through moving your spine (we want that to stay braced).

Dead bug’s are a great warm up exercise to get your core operating properly before training. We also program them into the end of a training session at a core finisher. Low reps are plenty here and the key is creating tension through your whole body. The more tension you have, the harder they are. Expressing the tension will have carry over to strength in other movements like deadlifts and squats.


  1. Anti-Rotation Press


I always think about training the core in “anti-movement.” What that means is that instead of focusing on training my abs to create movement, I want to train them to resist movement and other forces so I can always stay in a solid braced position.

The anti-rotation press is a great exercise to build that anti-rotation strength for more efficient running. Having anti-rotation strength can keep you from getting sloppy near the end of a run. This movement is typically done mixed into a strength set, 5-10 repetitions per side with a slight pause in the extended position.


Try mixing these core movements into your training program. Loaded carry variations can be done during or after each strength session. Dead bugs are great warm ups or done after any heavy work. Anti-rotation press is a good thing to mix in with your strength work. Make sure you are breathing! It’s easy to hold your breath while performing these movements but the breath is the key to stability and you don’t hold your breath while running or cycling!

If you want to learn more about movements like these, GAIN endurance, a weekly drop-in style class for endurance athletes is coming to GAIN Strength and Conditioning in August. This class is an addition to your current training plan to work on strength, mobility and conditioning.

The 3 Most Effective Core Exercises You’re Not Doing

Top 3 Strength Movements for Runners

Running is hard on your body. The continual, repetitive forces over long durations and large distances are certain to add up for anyone. Strength training should be mandatory if you plan on logging miles this summer. It’s the best way to fight off injuries, improve your technique, stability and control.

Here are 3 of our favorite strength movements for runners and endurance athletes alike.

  1. Squatting

I’ve written about this before. Squatting gets a bad reputation in the fitness world. The truth is, you need to know how to squat though, and a lot of people are taught poorly (or not at all).

When done correctly, a squat, no matter the variation, had endless benefits for endurance athletes. It teaches you to use and load your hips properly. Requiring you to get range of motion from your hips, while keeping your spine locked in and stabilized.

Since there are so many different variations and progressions/ scaling options – we can always find a variation that is appropriate for your skill level, strength and any restrictions you may have. Not only will these build up strength to go the distance and power up hills, taking your hips through a full range of motion will have you feeling looser and smoother with your running.


  1. Push ups


Push ups, one of the most poorly executed movements. They don’t get the credit they deserve! A push up is a technical exercise in which you must display a strong trunk (core), stable shoulders and control though a range of motion that we see in running. Your running position, elbows bent, hands near ribcage, is analogous to proper push up form.

The ability to express this strength by doing strict push ups, can save your shoulders during long runs and prevent you from getting what I call “runner’s shoulders,” with the scapula’s upwardly rotated and the shoulders internally rotated. Along with control of the shoulders, you must show control of your hips by using your core to prevent hips sagging – which will pull your shoulders out of position too.


  1. Deadlifting


Deadlifting is my go to with runners who need to improve the strength of their posterior chain. The glutes and hamstrings can get neglected when runners rely on their quads to propel them forward. Using these muscles in the back, will give you better power up hills, improve your top speed and help prevent any overuse injuries from putting too much stress on your quads and knees.

Much like the other two movements, deadlifting requires you to express a stiff trunk and stable spine. This teaches you about moving through your hips and maintaining stability though your spine while moving.


Now, this is certainly not an exhausted list of strength movements for runners. But, these exercises are great fundamental movements to master. They all have functional carryover to running because they make similar shapes to the shapes we see while running. They all take core and trunk position into account, which is imperative for carryover to the road or trail. Bracing yourself and your spine is overlooked and important to keep you running healthy and running far.



*Check back soon for our top 3 single leg movements for runners.


Launching in August – GAIN endurance – a weekly 90 minute drop in class focused on improving strength, mobility and conditioning. This program is an add on to your current training plan. You know you need to start strength training, come get some coaching.

Top 3 Strength Movements for Runners

What Defines a Great Workout?

We all associate a great workout with heroic efforts, puddles of sweat and red faces. While that’s all well and good, gasping for air and sweat drops don’t define a workout. Many of us fall into this trap of believing that our training sessions need to leave us yearning to lay on the floor.

While heroic efforts are great, consistent efforts are more impressive.

We can have great workouts by showing up, practicing good movement, getting quality repetitions in and taking care of your body. This idea that your workout is punishment for whatever poor lifestyle choices you made makes me want to scream.

If that’s your main motivation to train, you have some issues. Not only is that unsustainable, it builds on the unhealthy relationship of moving and working out by requiring you to do something “bad” in order do something “good.” It’s crazy. And it’s how most people think about fitness.

Motivation and willpower diminishing resources. You can’t always rely on them to produce superhero like workouts.

So where does that leave us in our definition of a good workout?

A good workout is anytime that you take care of yourself.

Anything you do to make your body feel better or to move more.

So while coming into the gym to do some mobility drills, some specific core exercises and some rolling may not feel like your accomplishing much, you are! You are taking time out of your life to deliberately take care of your body.

You should workout to feel better, not to punish yourself. That means, sometimes an easy workout is okay, and probably necessary.

So, stop being so hard on yourself. Focus on consistency, your body will thank you.


What Defines a Great Workout?

You’ve Been Tricked

Brainwashed by the fitness industry. Scammed by fake results and promised unrealistic transformations.

Transforming your body and your lifestyle isn’t out of reach – but it’s going to take much longer than you want it to. It’s going to take you longer than promised.

None of this is your fault. Our society wants immediate results. If my Amazon package takes more than the promised 2-day delivery, I get way too upset. We’ve lost our patience, and that is exactly what we need to see results.

Patience, consistency and the ability to handle the mundane. You must be able to show up, day in and day out. The stuff that gets real results is monotonous work on the fundamentals.  Most of us, don’t get the fundamentals down before we get bored. Start looking for the next thing. The thing that will work this time!

Guess what? It’s right in front of you, it’s what you’re doing. Stick with it, deliberately practice. Focus, learn, test and continue progressing. Skimming the top, then moving on – that’s how you spin your wheels. Handling consistency is how you transform.

I was listening to a podcast recently, when the guest was asked to give advice on how to get strong, his reply, “squat heavy once a week for 10 years.”

How are you going to feel in 10 years? 15 years? Stop thinking short term, lose your need for fast results and stick with a process, no matter what it is. Stick with it, and stop expecting your body to become supermodel status in a matter of days. There is nothing that will do that for you.

This goes back to making sure that you have some performance goals. Something to measure your real progress with. Aesthetic goals will only take you so far. Rather, they will take you as far as the next diet fad, infomercial workout, or super-vitamin-detox-green-smoothie weight loss shake.

Focus on what your body can do, not what it looks like. Performance is about how well you can do something, i.e., can you master it? Outcome goals, how much, how fast, how many – never seem to work as well.

Let’s focus on the process and get comfortable living there. There is no finish line.


You’ve Been Tricked

Is This Normal?

Is deadlifting heavy weight, squatting high reps and being super picky about push up technique normal? No, it certainty isn’t. Is rolling around on a lacrosse ball, foam roller or doing dedicated hip mobility work normal? Definitely not.

See, this whole functional fitness thing, or whatever you want to call it, isn’t normal. Living with some sort of pain has become normal.

Not being able to effortlessly walk down stairs is normal.

Having to take the day off from work after a weekend hike is normal.

Needing help carrying groceries inside is normal.

Icing your lower back after a morning in the garden is normal.

Missing full range of motion is normal.

Not being able to stabilize your spine is normal. 

Not knowing how to do a real push up is normal.

Fueling your body with fake foods is normal.

You only get one chance with this body, why would you put crap in it? Because that’s normal.

Don’t be normal.

Pursue strength as a skill. Spend time doing maintenance on your body. Move more and treat yourself like the fascinating piece of machinery that you are. Be respectful in how you fuel your body.

Going through life without a care about your physical being is normal. Don’t be normal – fight off aging, feel your best and don’t let anything slow you down.

Don’t be that person that says “what till you’re –insert age here-.”

Guess what? You don’t have to be like that you’re that age.

Passionately fight against the norm now and take care of yourself. Make it a priority, a sustainable practice you can do forever.

Put the work in now, even if it seems strange to your friend and peers. They are probably normal, anyway.


Is This Normal?

How Squatting Will Improve your Running

Runners, mastering a squat movement is one the best things you can do to improve your running ability. Think of learning to squat as learning a new skill that will have immediate transferability over to you on the road, trail or track.
Let’s talk about a good running position. You need to make sure that your trunk is braced, i.e., you’re stabilizing your spine. You also need to be getting movement from certain areas and not compensating through other areas.
You need to be able to do that over the entire duration of your run. Mile after mile no matter the distance or intensity. When you can no longer maintain the proper positions, you risk injury or develop compensatory patterns, that may lead to injury in the future. If that isn’t good enough reason for you, you will also lose power and speed. Resulting in slower times and harder runs.

Here’s where the ability to properly squat comes in. Now, make sure to note that I didn’t say squat 300 pounds. That isn’t what is important here. But doing some box squats or goblet squats or even a bodyweight squat will allow you to spot any mechanical breakdowns that may happen in your running technique. If you always turn your feet out on goblet squats on the last few reps, you can bet that you may turn your foot out when running. Missing hip extension? We can see that at the top of the squat. This, along with many other examples can provide a coach with guidelines to improve mobility or stability in the proper places.

As mentioned earlier, while running, you need proper spinal bracing. If you arch your back to lower yourself on the box, you may be running in an over extended position. That can also show that you don’t know how to properly keep yourself in a strong, braced core position. Proper squatting, with guidance from a knowledgeable coach (there are a lot of people who teach poor squatting out there, be careful who you get advice from) requires you to brace your core to move your extremities, just like running.
By squatting, we can spot potential breakdowns but we can also practice good positions.



How Squatting Will Improve your Running

Training with Back Pain


We have all done it.

Carefully bending over to grab something off the ground, and there it goes, your back gives out. No warning, no prior symptoms, it just happens. And it happens to all of us. I have had my fair share of back problems from abusive years playing ice hockey and moronic training.

We also see our fair share of people who have back pain at GAIN, given our client demographic is middle aged to 70+. Almost everyone I have a consultation with has some history of back pain, they say that about once a year, no matter what, their back gives out for a week or so.

I don’t have the magic solution for it either. However, improving strength, learning how to stabilize and owning ranges of motion certainly  make your body more robust. Seeing a qualified physical therapist if you are in pain is non-negotiable. If there’s pain, get some help.

Here’s what I like to see people who have back pain improve upon:

  1. Can you properly hip hinge?


A hip hinge is one of the fundamental movement patterns that we see often in everyday life. We make sure to do some type of hip hinging, whether bilaterally or on one leg, at each and every workout at GAIN.

We think it’s that important of a skill to own.

Hip hinging, when done properly, keeps your back in a solid, braced position, forcing you to get the range of motion from your hip joints and not from moving your spine and becoming unstable. It loads the posterior chain muscles like your hamstrings and glutes, and uses those to stand up, opposed to the back muscles.

PVC hip hinge – a staple in our movement prep and a great way to grease the groove and practice hinging. Notice my back – locked into place.

The problem I often run into here, is that people are unwilling to trust their hinge. That happens, and it is part of the learning process. But doing a weird, super-wide stance, squat type of thing, is just a Band-Aid. You need to know how to pick stuff up. You likely need a regression to start, especially while you work towards gathering the requisite range of motion.

This is common at GAIN. We love barbells, but realize it isn’t he right tool for every job. Doing kettlebell or dumbbell deadlifts or even something raised higher than that can be a good teaching tool here to build confidence in a strange movement.

Margret shows an elevated suitcase deadlift. My go-to with those who have trouble getting all the way to the ground.


  1. How’s your hip mobility?


If your hips are ultra-wound up, it may be difficult to hinge properly. If you cannot flex, or close your hips, think folding your belly on your thighs, it is going to be difficult to get to the ground or the object without losing spine position.

This is where you can work with a PT to improve range of motion or add in some dedicated mobility training to your plan. I like to see improvements in hip flexion and ankle dosiflexion for anyone who has trouble getting to the bottom position. This is another time that we would modify the lift – so we can still get a training effect, while working within the safe range of motion. Then, before adding more weight to the bar, we can progress the movement by adding in a bigger range of motion. Eventually adding load to challenge to new found positions and ranges.



3. Can you get stable?

Can you create a stiff trunk?

What I mean, is can you get into a proper braced-neutral position, without any load. When we teach deadlifting, the first position we teach is the finish position. This helps you maintain stability throughout the lift.

The purpose of the hinge is to challenge this braced position while requiring the hips to move, i.e., keep the torso stiff while the legs do the work*. Ever hear the saying lift with your legs not your back?

We teach stiffness (the popular thing to say is a strong core) using other exercises to demonstrate, and educate you on what it is supposed to feel like.

For example, if you are someone who sags their hips when doing push ups, I’ll be willing to bet that you have a hard time keeping a stable core when deadlifting. So we can work on creating the proper stiffness through the anterior core when doing push ups, loaded carries and a host of other plank and core progressions. That way, when it comes time to deadlift or pick something up – you know what right feels like.

A common problem is excessive arching of the lower back. We find that when people have trouble creating stability, they hang on their spine to find it. This especially holds true with formers athletes and many runners we see.


So what can you do?

  • Find exercises that allow you to train around any painful ranges of motion. Single leg exercises are typically ideal here, along with sled pushing, upper body movements that allow you to stay stable and low level core drills to practice the proper positioning.
  • Work with a coach to develop a proper hip hinge and core stability. It’s all about positioning and body awareness here.
  • Work with a PT or a coach to improve range of motion – if you need to. Sometimes, this lack of range of motion can be a stability issue – meaning, you have the range of motion available, but cannot access it because your body feels unsafe in those positions. Developing core strength, total body strength and the ability to properly brace and breathe are all invaluable here.


At the end of the day, training and spending time in the gym is about getting you outside of the gym. Train to make these new positions and movements your default. It takes time, dedication and effort, but you don’t want to blow your back out picking up a pen off the ground. Create awareness, practice diligently and be patient.



*Exactly what running is, by the way…


Training with Back Pain