7 essential core exercises for runners every runner should do

  • Post last modified:September 10, 2020
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Your core is extremely important while running. The good news is that there are lots of core exercises for runners out there to help you become a stronger and faster runner.

A good core means you are able to hold a strong and stable position for longer, thus allowing you hold proper form and posture.

The muscles in your back, stomach and hips are key components for good core strength and all work together to create good posture. They also help you stand upright, transfer energy and distribute the stress of bearing weight on two legs.

According to a 2009 study conducted on 28 adults, strength training significantly improved running times for distances of over 5000m. 

Many people think you have to become a gym bunny to develop your core strength. This simply isn’t true! Many core exercises do not require weights or a visit to the gym, unless you want to, of course!

Here are some essential core exercises for runners.

These will not only strengthen the muscles in your back, stomach and hips, they will make you a stronger and faster runner.

Be sure to check out my posts on hip strengthening exercises for runners and glute strengthening exercises for runners too. 

core exercises for runners

Core exercises for runners: Plank

Probably one of the most popular core strength exercises, depending on who you ask!

The plank is a great all round exercise that can improve your core strength hugely over time if practiced regularly.

Even better, it requires no equipment and there are lots of variations on the standard plank, including the side plank which I explain more about below.

Many people forget to breathe when they do a plank, so make sure you are taking slow and steady breaths.

And try not to lift your bum too high in the air. Your bum should be in line with your shoulder girdle.

If a forearm plank is too challenging for you, you can try a knee plank. By resting your knees on the floor, you create less stress in the lower back.

How to do a plank

  1. Place your forearms on the ground with your elbows aligned below the shoulders, and arms parallel to the body at about shoulder-width distance.

  2. Clasp your hands together.

  3. Ground your toes into the floor and squeeze your glutes to stabilise your body. Be careful not to lock or hyperextend your knees.

  4. Neutralise your neck and spine by looking at a spot on the floor just beyond your hands. Your head should be in line with your back.

  5. Hold the position for 30 seconds. As you get more comfortable with the move, gradually increase the time in which you hold the plank.

Core exercises for runners: Side plank

The side plank works your postural muscles to help you stay upright and prevent injury.

As seen with the standard plank, there are countless variations that you can try to work those muscles, including the side plank with hip dip, side plank with knee tuck, and side plank with reach through.

How to do a side plank

  1. Lie on your side, supporting your upper body on your lower forearm while holding your top arm at your side or up in the air.

  2. Your feet should stack on top of each other.

  3. While lifting your body, keep a straight diagonal line from your head to your feet.

  4. Hold for 30 seconds then lower your body down to the floor again.

  5. More advanced runners can hold for longer periods of time. You can also try the variations as described above if the standard side plank gets too easy.

core exercises for runners

Core exercises for runners: V-ups

V-ups are a great core body exercise that requires you to lift the weight of both your arms and legs by using your abdominal muscles.

It’s important to work different ab muscles in different ways that challenge you to lift the weight of both your arms and legs using the muscles of the abdomen.

V-ups are a more intense way to practice core strength, as opposed to a standard plank, with fewer reps and less time spent overall.

V-ups are also a great exercise to develop your balance and coordination.

How to do V-ups

  1. Lie on your back and extend your arms behind your head. Keep your feet together and toes pointed.

  2. Keep your legs straight and lift them up as you simultaneously raise your upper body off the floor.

  3. Keep your core engaged as you reach for your toes with your hands.

  4. Slowly lower yourself back down to the starting position.

Core exercises for runners: Superman pull

A Superman pull targets your lower back, engages your core and strengthens your back.

This exercise has you lift your arms and legs off the ground, as if you were flying, hence the name ‘Superman pull’.

How to do a Superman pull

  1. Lie face down on the floor and reach your arms forward and straighten your legs (like a superman in flight pose).

  2. Engage your lower back and shoulders and raise your chest and arms off the floor. Your legs should be off the floor at this point too.

  3. From here, engage your latissimus dorsi muscle (either side of your upper back) and draw your elbows in towards your chest like you’re doing a pull up.

  4. Extend your arms in front of you again.

  5. Repeat 12 times and do 3 sets with 30 seconds of rest in between.

core exercises for runners

Core exercises for runners: Bicycle kicks

Bicycle kicks are a great exercise to target your abdominal muscles.

You will also develop your hamstrings and glutes. They can also be used as an alternative to leg raises.

How to do bicycle kicks

  1. Lie on your back and fully extend your legs. Your entire body should be parallel to the ground.

  2. Place your arms above your head or to the side of your body for added stability.

  3. Slowly bring your left leg towards your chest, bending at the knee as it comes to the chest. Bring as close as it will go.

  4. With your left leg at your chest, bring your right leg (bending at the knee) towards your chest while at the same time, extending the left leg back to its straight position.

  5. To put more emphasis on the obliques (sides of the abdominal muscles), bring your torso up (with the hands behind the head), and twist the torso so one’s elbow meets the opposite knee as it comes towards the chest. These are called bicycle crunches.

  6. Do not allow your legs to touch the ground at the bottom (keep them 2-6 inches above the ground).

  7. Hold the lowered position for 1-2 seconds before alternating to your other leg.

  8. Repeat steps 3-6.

Core exercises for runners: Glute bridge

The glute bridge works the lower back and top of the glutes – two areas where runners get sore.

It’s important to strengthen the muscle groups in these areas to stabilise your body and keep good running form.

Check out my post on good hip flexor stretches for runners as these are heavily linked with your glutes.

Your glutes and hip flexors are like the ying and yang of running. 

How to do a glute bridge

  1. Lie on your back and bring your feet towards your buttocks.

  2. Raise your hips up towards the ceiling.

  3. Make sure there’s a straight line from your shoulder blades to your knees. Try not to raise the bottom of your spine (lumbar spine) too much.

  4. Hold this position for 30 seconds then lower your body back down to the floor.

  5. Repeat 5 times.

  6. More advanced runners can work on holding the bridge for longer periods of time. You can also experiment with a single leg glute bridge.

core exercises for runners

Core exercises for runners: Mountain climbers

Mountain climbers are a little more advanced. They are a great all body workout and really get the heart rate going.

They work the muscles in your shoulders, arms, abdominals, hips and upper legs.

They are also really accessible because you can perform them anywhere and require no equipment – just your body!

Be sure to check out my guide on some of the best HIIT workouts for runners. Mountain climbers and other exercises feature in this guide. 

If you do want to add equipment into your routine, check out my guide on the best home gym equipment for runners

How to do mountain climbers

  1. Get into an elevated plank position.

  2. Bring one knee up towards your elbow, then return it to the starting position and bring the other knee up.

  3. Make sure that your hips and lower back stay in a neutral position (slightly arched) throughout the exercise.


Caroline Geoghegan

Caroline Geoghegan (aka Run With Caroline) helps people become faster and stronger runners. She started her blog in 2018 to share her passion for running. Caroline is a UK Athletics qualified Run Leader and Run Coach and NASM qualified Personal Trainer.

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