Core and drills session by Sam Ayers

I was lucky enough to be invited to join Broughton’s Ladies running group for a session from Sam Ayers.  She is an England Athletics “flying coach” and L3 Endurance coach.

This was one of the best coach education, and coaching sessions I have been to and I hope that she can do more for us.  Sam was particularly good at taking an exercise we all know and breaking it down so that we do it right, as well as showing both easier and harder versions.

The following article summarises what she taught us (I hope).

Core Exercises

The Plank

Key points:

  • Draw stomach muscles in (zip)
  • Pelvis neutral, back straight
  • Feet hip width apart
  • Elbows under shoulders
  • Head looking between hands

If there is a curve in the back, check for a natural arching of the back by lying on back, feet on floor, knees at right angles, then try to push fingers under lower back.  No fingers means flat back, fingers in a little is more normal, hands under is arched.


  • Kneeling
  • Knees further back
  • One leg straight, swap legs
  • Both legs
  • One leg up, swap legs
  • One leg, opposite arm, swap
  • Perhaps use gym ball with arms on (easier) or feet (harder) to give less stability

See my previous post with the link to Chris Mallac’s article.

Side Plank

Key points:

  • Draw stomach muscles in (zip)
  • Pelvis neutral, back straight
  • Feet stacked one on top (for main exercise)
  • Elbow under shoulder
  • Supporting arm at right angles, palm flat and relaxed (can use other arm for stability at first)
  • Other arm vertical, palm forward
  • Head looking forwards


  • Knees bent
  • One knee bent
  • Wide stance, one leg straight, top leg forward
  • Both legs together
  • Legs together and lift one leg (turn heel up toe down slightly before lifting leg to engage muscles correctly, do not drop hip when lifting leg)


Key Points:

  • Lying on back with feet flat on floor, in a position that the feet will be under the knees when in the bridge position
  • Arms at about 45 degrees to the body, palms up
  • Slowly curve up the spine from the bottom to the top, one vertebra at a time, until the body is in a straight line (useful to have mirror for this)
  • Hold, then go down slowly one vertebra at a time
  • Do not hyperextend the back, i.e. don’t go beyond straight


  • Basic exercise as described above
  • In Bridge position, lift one leg, replace, then lift other leg
  • Start with one leg straight, then go into position, but keeping leg in line with the body

Press ups

Key points:

  • Draw stomach muscles in (zip)
  • Pelvis neutral, back straight
  • Feet hip width apart
  • Hands slightly wider than shoulders (although see progression)
  • Head goes slowly down so nose forms a triangle with hands, forward of the hands, go up straight, not backwards
  • Start easy


  • Kneeling
  • Knees further back
  • Both legs just going down
  • Both legs down and up
  • Modify to use more triceps by moving hands towards middle of body

Core Crunches

There was some debate about the efficacy of these for running, as runners rarely run in a crunch position.  Sam introduced a simple version, before suggesting a slightly more running specific version.

Key Points:

  • Heels on floor, preferably feet flat on floor
  • Knees at right angles
  • Elbows back level with head
  • Arms out straight ahead, or fingers gently against side of head

Initial starting point:

  • Start sitting with body vertical and slowly lean back, one vertebra at a time, if the body cannot go right down then stop at balance point and come back up, otherwise come back up slowly
  • If feet come off the ground, check if the athlete can go further with a very gentle touch on the toes: if so this is probably a neurological issue; if this makes no difference then this is a strength issue (me – I’ve never been able to do these!)

Running specific version:

  • Starting position lying with legs flat and elbows flat
  • Slowly come up, bringing up one leg, and bring opposite elbow to opposite knee, go down slowly
  • Check that knee is not coming up beyond vertical
  • Check that elbows stay flat


Bum Squeeze

This replaces the traditional Heel Flick, where the heel is brought up to hit the backside with the knee pointing down.  As this is not part of the running stride, it is not an appropriate running drill.  That is not to say that it cannot be used as part of a dynamic warm-up for the quads, just that it will not improve running style.

Key Points:

  • The knee should come forward and up, as in the running stride
  • The heel should come up so that it ends under the bottom
  • Foot should go rapidly down to the floor limiting the strike time
  • When doing this dynamically the arms should use the running motion


  • Start off doing this slowly in a standing position to learn the required position
  • Move to doing this on the spot, perhaps three is a row, then balance and repeat
  • Move to doing forwards, slowly and under control
  • Increase tempo, trying to do as many actions as possible over 10m

Prancing Pony

This drill is designed to increase the speed with which the lead leg is returned to the ground.  It is a complex drill and is often not rapidly acquired.

Key Points:

  • Bring the lead foot down to the ground fast
  • Bring it down under the centre of gravity
  • Lean slightly forwards during the exercise


  • Standing, bring the straight leg down rapidly to the ground
  • Keep the foot dorsiflexed
  • Do this action moving forward slowly
  • Introduce a hop – high knee action (almost step, hop)
  • Try to reduce the contact time between the foot and the ground
  • Combine the two to bring the lead foot down very rapidly
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