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9 best core exercises for runners + 4 core workouts to try

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Your core is extremely important while running. 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 good news is that it’s simple to strengthen your core, and in this guide we’ll explore some of the best core exercises for runners out there to help you become a stronger and faster runner.

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.

Core exercises for runners like the ones in this guide will not only strengthen the muscles in your back, stomach and hips, they will make you a stronger and faster runner.

So make sure you incorporate these core exercises into your routine. 

In this guide we’ll explore:

  • Why is core strength important for runners?
  • What muscles make up your core?
  • Signs and symptoms of a weak core
  • How much core work a runner should do?
  • What are the best core exercises for runners?
  • 9 of the best core exercises for runners
  • 4 sample core workouts for runners

Ready?

Let’s get going!

core exercises for runners

Why is core strength important for runners?

You may be wondering: Are core workouts good for runners? The answer is yes!

One of the main benefits of good core strength for runners is increased ability to stabilise the torso. 

If you feel yourself hunching over at the end of a run and your running form and posture starts to suffer, then it’s a sign you need to work on strengthening your core.

Your core muscles (e.g. your chest, back, abdominals and obliques) work together to keep your torso upright when you run.

This in turn helps to reduce any ‘wobbling’ when moving your arms and legs.

Good core strength is also a key component of proper running form. Running form helps you run more efficiently.

In fact, according to a 2009 study conducted on 28 adults, core strength significantly improved running times for distances of over 5000m. 

Here are the key benefits of a good core for runners:

  • Improves running performance and efficiency
  • Reduces the risk of injury
  • Reduces lower back pain and stiffness
  • Improves your running form and posture
  • Keeps you healthy

Related: 3 quick and easy habits for injury free running

What muscles make up your core?

Many people think it’s only your abdominal muscles that make up your core, when in fact your core is made up of a variety of muscles, including those in your back and pelvis.

Here are the key muscles that make up your core:

  • Erector spinae
  • Obliques
  • Rectus abdominis
  • Transverse abdominis
  • Multifidus
  • Pelvic floor
  • Diaphragm
  • Glutes
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip flexors
  • Hip adductors

What are the signs and symptoms of a weak core?

Your core is the foundation for a lot of daily movement as well as activities like running and exercise. 

When you have a weak core, this can cause imbalances elsewhere in the body. 

This is why maintaining a strong and balanced core is so important for overall health and wellbeing. 

One of the main causes of a weak core is leading a sedentary lifestyle and prolonged sitting. This makes it all the more difficult to maintain a strong core.

Here are the signs and symptoms of a weak core:

  • Lower back pain
  • Poor posture
  • Bad balance
  • Low standing endurance
  • Difficulty breathing

Related: 7 glute strengthening exercises for runners

best core exercises for runners

How much core work should a runner do?

Core work should be an essential part of any training plan, especially when it comes to long distance running.

The general advice is to do at least one core workout a week to keep your core strong and healthy. 

Each core workout should last at least 10 minutes to 30 minutes.

If you’ve got less than 10 minutes to spare, then try and fit more than one core workout into your weekly routine.

You can find some sample core workouts for runners at the end of this guide.

Related: 6 tips for dealing with sore muscles after running

What are the best core exercises for runners?

It can be daunting trying to find the best core workouts when you’re a runner. Where do you start?

The good news is there are plenty of core exercises that are good for runners to include in their training routine.

You can either choose to do core exercises as part of a standalone workout at home or at the gym, or as part of a pre-warm warm up.

The best core exercises are those that focus on a range of different core muscles.

The beauty of core exercises is that they can be adapted and modified to provide extra challenge. 

best core exercises for runners

9 quick and easy core exercises for runners

#1 Plank

Probably one of the most popular core strength exercises for runners, 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.

#2 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.

#3 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.

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.

As such they are considered one of the deep core exercises for runners. 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.

#4 Leg raises

Leg raises are tough if you’re not used to engaging your core. They take a bit of getting used to, but overall they’re one of the best core exercise for runners.

This exercise requires you to use slow, small, deliberate motions. The less you can drive your legs towards your head, the better.

How to do leg raises

  1. Start by lying on your back.
  2. Extend your legs in the air above you, perpendicular to the ground.
  3. With arms on the ground for balance, use your lower abs to lift your butt just off the ground.

#5 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.

#6 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.

#7 Lying ankle taps

Ankle taps are a beginner-friendly core exercise because they are low impact and easy to do.

  1. Lie on the floor face up with your legs bent and feet flat on the floor.
  2. Reach your arms down by your side, held just off the floor.
  3. Engage your core by drawing your belly button and waist down towards your spine.
  4. Slowly tense your abdominal muscles to lift your head, then neck, then shoulders and upper back off the floor.
  5. Keep your lower back on the floor and do not let it arch away from the floor.
  6. Twist your torso to the side and reach down with your right hand to touch your right ankle.
  7. Immediately reach down with your left hand and touch your left ankle.
  8. Repeat 8-10 times each side.

#8 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!

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.

#9 Windshield wipers

Windshield wipers are a great exercise to include in your routine because they help to build a strong core on both sides of the body by strengthening your lower back muscles.

They also engage your hip flexors as you rotate your hips through the full range of motion. So if you have tight hips, this is a great exercise to activate your hip flexor muscles.

How to do windshield wipers

  1. Lay flat on your back with arms extended out beside you and legs in the air.
  2. Keeping feet together and legs straight, rotate your hips to move feet slowly from left to right from the hand back again.
  3. Keep your lower back on the ground.
  4. If this feels too hard, bend your knees more.
best core exercises for runners

4 sample core workouts for runners

Now you know the best core exercises for runners, try one of these sample core workouts. There are 4 workouts from beginner to more advanced. 

#1 Beginner core workout for runners

This is a beginner-friendly core workout. You can choose to adapt any of these core exercises for runners to make them easier and more user-friendly.

Perform each exercise for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds rest. 

  • Lying ankle taps
  • Plank 
  • Mountain climbers 
  • Side plank
  • Bicycle kicks

#2 5-minute core workout for runners

This workout is short but intense! The core exercises for runners in this workout are designed to get your heart rate going. 

Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds rest.

  • V-ups
  • Mountain climbers
  • Bicycle kicks
  • Lying ankle taps
  • Plank

#3 10-minute core workout for runners

This workout is a happy medium between the short, intense 5-minute workout and the longer 20-minute workout that’s listed below.

Perform each exercise for 40 seconds, followed by 20 seconds rest. Perform two sets of each exercise.

  • Plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Lying ankle taps
  • Bicycle kicks
  • Superman pull

#4 20-minute core workout for runners

This is a longer workout so it will challenge your strength and endurance. However, don’t treat it as a high intensity session, ensure you do controlled movements for each exercise.

Perform each exercise for 40 seconds, followed by 20 seconds rest. Perform four sets of each exercise.

  • Plank
  • Mountain climbers
  • Side plank
  • V-ups
  • Bicycle kicks

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