Everyone knows the value of maintaining a strong CORE. We do crunches, plank, squats, lunges, jump rope, push-ups, hamstring curls and any other exercises that we can think of to increase our strength. Keeping up with these exercises provides huge benefits during the training season, including helping with injury prevention, balance and stability. This we know.
However, one thing that athletes sometimes fail to understand is how much load these core exercises can put on their muscles (especially leg exercises like lunges & squats). Below are a few important points to consider:
FIRST: You want to be especially careful with your core workout during the taper phase of your training. It is important to head into race day with muscles that are fresh and rested. I found last year that many athletes were still attending core class the week before their big race. They would cut their swim/bike/run mileage or intensity, but they were still pounding out the lunges and squats just a few days before race day.
My plan of attack leading up to an "A" race is to cut out my "intense" core work for at least two weeks before the race. It is ok to do some light core exercises (ex. crunches or plank), but I steer clear of leg exercises or anything that is going to load my muscles (a.k.a. make them sore). If I am heading into a "training race" that is lined up on my schedule, I will still meet my core hours for the week but may decrease the intensity to 70-80%. The overall benefits of completing the core class are more important for my training, but I still want to limit soreness going into a race.
SECOND: An extra yoga class is a good way to supplement your core workout for the few weeks leading up to your "A" race. This is a great way to incorporate light core work into your training without putting too much stress on the muscles. It also forces you to stretch more than you probably would...which of course if ALWAYS helpful!
NEXT: Don't try to "cram" in all of the core workouts you missed along the way. Ideally you want to keep up with your workouts throughout the season. However, if you don't...three weeks before your big race is not the time to start doing 100 pushups per day. Try to incorporate some light core work into your schedule, but don't ramp up the intensity at the last minute.
FINALLY: Leading up to race-day, you will also want to steer clear of trying any NEW core exercises. In other words, you don't want to start doing yoga the week before a race if you have never been to a yoga class before. If your body is not used to certain exercises, you will most likely feel some sort of soreness or stiffness after that workout. The last thing you want to do is pull something or injure yourself trying something new right before the race. Just like they say, "don't try something new on race day." The same applies for the week before the race!
If you have any questions about core exercises, feel free to ask! Happy training!