Core exercises for runners is more than having a good looking six pack, the core muscles are linked to your posture.
Core exercises for runners is important because when muscles are short and tight they pull joints into incorrect positions.
For example, in the diagram below the muscles in the back of the legs are overly strong and dominant.
This causes the pelvis to be pulled downwards, while the muscles of the abdominals are pulling up.
Figure 1. An examples of bad posture caused by tight muscles.
You can think of ideal postural alignment as being the perfect balance between all the muscles in the body.
The closer you are to ideal alignment the less likely you are to pick up a sports related injury, or suffer from lower back pain.
From a performance point of view good posture, and good muscle balance acts as a great platform to launch your training.
You wouldn’t race a car for twenty laps with a flat tyre for obvious reasons, so training the core is important for performance, injury prevention and spinal health.
Improve your flexibility. No matter how much you work your abdominals you won’t achieve ideal postural alignment if your flexibility is poor. The key muscles to stretch are often the hamstrings (back of your legs), hip flexors and lower back (see figure 2). These muscles can become tight if you work at a desk all day.
Strengthen the abdominals. The key muscles to strengthen are your Transverse abdominal muscles (TVA) and internal oblique’s. The TVA muscle is the deepest abdominal muscle. It is located underneath your superficial muscles and when activated it tightens around your waist into your back like a belt. This provides greater stability and support for your back (see figure 1).
Train functionally. If you have never done core work before, or you have had a history of back problems it may be simpler to start on the floor, if you have trained the core before then get off the floor. The core muscles job is to help the spine and work with it, by performing big compound movements like a squat you will have weight going through your spine which will cause higher levels of stimulation for the core muscles. Also, you will be training the core in a functional way, a way that it is use to working day to day. We use our core when we bend to pick up objects from the floor, when we run, jump and twist. This is why it is better to train the core off the floor.
This core exercise is great running and developing leg power. Keep your stomach pulled in, and have your feet shoulder width apart. Lower your body to the floor until your knees are at 90 degrees. Maintain a straight back all the way through by keeping your chest raised. Use light weights to start with.
The lunge is similar to the running stance as you have one foot in front of the other and it engages the core. Keep your chest up, pull your tummy in and lower yourself till your knee is a few inches from the floor.
3. The Bridge.
This is great for working the buttocks, if these muscles aren’t functioning properly it places allot of stress on the back. Keep your feet close to your bottom, and hip width apart. Raise your bum as high as you can until your knees, hip and shoulder joints are in a straight line.
4. Russian twist
Great exercise for strengthening the muscles that rotate the trunk. Start with your body twisted, and feet pointing forward. Rotate your body till your chest is facing in the opposite direction you started from. Your hands must remain in front of your chest at all times.
5. Reverse wood chop
Start from a low position with your knees slightly bent. Grab hold of the pulley and rotate until you have pulled the pulley above your head. Keep your arms straight at all times.
Keep your hips, shoulders and ankle in line with each other. Keep your belly button pulled in and hold the position for one minute.
7. Side plank crunches
Hold your body weight on your elbow. Bring your hip down to the floor and push back up as high as you can.
How do you currently train the core? Do you currently look at your posture as a measure of core strength? Please feel free to comment or leave opinions.
Three 5 Minute Killer Core Workouts For Runners
Most people claim that they simply don’t have enough time for exercising. The truth is you don’t need a whole lot of time to exercise.
If you want to strengthen your abdomen and improve your core, then these simple 5-minute core workouts are going to be all that you need.
Everyone wants a quick workout because they simply don’t have a lot of time for a traditional lengthy workout.
These workouts are perfect if you are a very busy individual. And need more time to fulfill your busy schedule.
These core exercises will build core strength for running
These exercises are also very effective even though they don’t take a whole lot of time.
To develop a proper core, you really don’t need long exercise sessions to develop the abdominals.
Most strength for your abdominal muscles is going to develop with short high-intensity abdominal workouts and not longer 30 minute plus sessions.
In the gym, you are engaging your abdominals with many standard exercises like the bench press, deadlift, squat, and so on.
Runners are always using there core.
You are always engaging your core so you don’t really have to work the abdominals all that much.
The abdominals are getting plenty of exercise so you just need short sessions to improve the muscles just a little bit more.
All this muscle group needs is a short amount of attention and focus. This is why shorter high-intensity ab workouts are going to be so effective because you’re focusing all of the attention on this area.
Here are a couple of workouts that you should consider doing to improve your abdominal area in just a short amount of time.
Running Killer Core Workout 1
The flutter kick – 30 seconds
Bicycle – 30 seconds
6 inches – 30 seconds
Russian twists – 30 seconds
Leg raises – 30 seconds
Bicycle – 30 seconds
Toe touches – 30 seconds
Russian twists – 30 seconds
6 inches – 30 seconds
This workout is designed to target the oblique muscles and your lower core muscles.
The Flutter Kick (30 secs)
You want to keep this exercise at a quick but deliberate pace. You don’t want to do any cheating here. You want to focus on the contraction of the abdominal muscles and keeping the core tight.
Bicycle (30 secs)
You want to make sure this exercise is precise and slow. You’re not doing it for speed, you’re focusing on keeping the legs straight and feeling the stretch of the exercise. You want to alternate the legs as the alteration is also a part of the exercise. Just take everything slow and don’t rush the whole exercise.
6 Inches (30 secs)
You want to keep the core tight and the legs very level. Your legs may shake a little bit during this exercise but just try to keep them in the same general area.
Russian Twist (30 secs)
In this exercise, you want to touch the hands down on either side of you on the floor. You can get the full range of motion when you twist the core. Do this instead of just rotating each arm side to side.
Leg Raises (30 secs)
Use your core to help you get your legs up in the air. You don’t want to swing in the legs up as you want to contract the abdominal muscles as you bring the legs up. You also want to lower the legs slowly to the floor and not let them fall during the exercise.
Bicycles (30 secs)
You are now going to do more bicycle exercises so you simply want to focus on the form here and stay strong through this individual set.
Toe Touches (30 secs)
Try to reach as close as you can to the toes. If you’re not able to reach the toes, just get as close as you possibly can. If you’re able to reach the toes try going past your toes to get a more effective workout.
Russian Twists (30 secs)
You can now do some more Russian Twists. make sure you keep your form here and do the exercise slowly so it is more effective.
6 Inches (30 secs)
Do this exercise again and maintain your form. Perform the exercise slowly which will improve the effectiveness of this individual exercise.
High-Intensity Running Core Workout Two
Mountain Climbers – 60 seconds
V-Crunch – 60 seconds
Superman Plank – 60 seconds
Side Plank (Right) – 30 seconds
Side Plank (Left) – 30 seconds
Windshield Wipers – 60 seconds
You want to have minimal rest time between each one of these exercises. practice maintaining proper form as this will help you do the exercises better.
If you can’t do some of these exercises for 60 seconds try them at just 30 seconds and then work your way up.
Give yourself very minimal rest time. Transition to the next exercise as quickly as possible.
Mountain Climbers (60 secs)
This exercise will help you target the lower abdominal area. You should move your feet as fast as possible during the exercise as it helps you get more out of it.
You want to bring the knees up to the chest with each one of your steps. You want to get as full a range of motion as possible with the exercise through the entire 60 seconds.
Reverse Crunch (60 Secs)
Exercise also helps you target the lower abdominal region. It’s harder to burn fat off of the lower abdominals so this additional exercise will help target in this area.
During the exercise make sure that you bring the knees up to the chest area and perform the exercise slowly through the entire 60 seconds.
Plank Jacks (30- 60 secs)
This exercise is perfect for targeting the entire abdominal area. Planks can be tough to hold and this one is about the same.
By adding in a jack to the exercise it makes the plank exercise a lot tougher. You’ll be working the abdominal area to a greater degree with this exercise.
Try to keep your form and do the exercise to the best of your ability to get the most out of it.
Side Plank (30- 60 secs)
This plank exercise is going to the target the oblique area.
You’ll be working adjust the obliques and not many individuals focus on the oblique muscles so they’re probably week when compared to other areas of your body.
Try to hold the side plank for as long as possible. It’s still going to work even if you can only hold it for 15 seconds.
As you get better, try to hold it for 30 seconds and then 60 seconds once you gain enough strength to do so.
Windshield Wipers (60 secs)
The windshield wiper exercise is another exercise you can do to improve the oblique muscles.
This exercise will also work the front side of the abdominal muscles. As you get stronger with his exercise you’re going to be able to move the legs lower.
As a beginner, you just want to move the legs by the ground because you’re probably not going to have the strength to move them back up.
Start this exercise slowly and go lower each time that you do the exercise.
You’ll be able to get more oblique work with windshield wipers.
Along with that, you’ll be working on the front side of your abs as well. The stronger you become, the lower you’ll be able to move your legs.
When you’re just beginning, you shouldn’t move your legs too close to the ground because you may not be able to move them back up.
Feel the exercise out and slowly go down lower and lower each time you go down.
High-Intensity Core Workout For Runners Three
Dead bug – 45 seconds
The ab curl – 45 seconds
Legs with abs in table top – 45 seconds
The single leg stretch – 45 seconds
Criss cross Pilates exercise – 45 seconds
How to perform each of these exercises for around 45 seconds and take around a 15-second rest between each exercise. The total workout time is going to take around 5 minutes.
DEAD BUG (45 secs)
For this exercise, you want to lie on your back. You want to have your legs in a tabletop position and the arms should be reaching up towards the ceiling area.
You want to breathe out and then slowly lower one of your legs down while simultaneously taking the opposite arm and lowering it back behind you.
As you breathe in you want to lift the arm in the leg back to your starting position and then you can repeat this on the other side.
The AB CURL (45 secs)
You want to lie on your back and have the spine in a neutral position. You want the feet flat in the knees bent as you do the exercise.
You want to take your hands and put them behind your head to interlock them. You want the weight of your head to be relaxed in your hands.
Breathe out you want to lift into an abdominal curl and keep the spine as neutral as possible.
When lifting into the abdominal curl you should think that there’s something small underneath your lower back.
You want to try not to squash this imaginary item as you curl back upwards.
You want to draw the rib cage down to the hip area while you curl up. try not to have the rib cage stick out when you are lowering your head down.
This helps keep the abdominal switched through the entire movement.
Legs with abs in tabletop (45 secs)
You want to lie on your back and have the legs in a tabletop position. Take your hands and interlock these behind your head. have the weight of your head relaxed in your hands.
As you breathe out you want to lift into the abdominal curl. Your rib cage should be drawn down towards the hip area.
keep your lower back imprinted in the ground. As you breathe in lower your head and the chest area back down.
The Single Leg Stretch (45 sec)
Lie on the back and have the spine imprinted and put your legs into the table top position.
You want to lift yourself into an abdominal curl and have the hands interlocked around your right shin area.
You want to take your hands and press these into the shin and lift your head and chest off the ground and get this as high as you can. As you breathe out you don’t want to pull your knees towards the chest area.
As you breathe in you can change knees without lowering your chest back down. You want to breathe out and put the other knee in towards the chest area. You can keep doing this as you alternate sides.
Criss Cross (45 secs)
Get on your back and have your spine imprinted. Put the legs into a tabletop position and you want your hands interlocked behind the head.
As you were breathing out you want to curl up and then rotate the chest towards the right knee area. While you were doing this you want to extend the left leg.
As you breathe in, rotate the chest to the center area and bring the leg back to the tabletop position. As you breathe out you want to then rotate the chest to the left knee area and extended the right leg out.
9 alternative core exercises to improve running speed
One thing I would like you to take from what follows is that you don’t have to do your core work on the floor.
When we think about increasing core strength, we think about lying on a mat doing plank exercises and crunches, but I can assure you weight training is even more effective.
To some people core work means strengthening your lower abdominals, and the rest of the body will be stable as a result.
However, as stated earlier you can still develop muscle imbalances around your hips, knees and ankles which can lead to injuries.
Muscle imbalances cause the body to compensate.
Also, when you have muscle imbalances the body compensates in other areas of your body which could include your:
So this means that to achieve true core stabilisation to prevent injuries and feel stronger you need to address the imbalances around the joints.
The key muscles to strengthen that can get weak from running are:
hamstrings (back of the leg)
gluteus maximus (buttocks)
The best core exercise for runners
An exercise that activates the abdominal muscles, glutes and will super charge your legs is a single leg bridge.
This exercise will teach your abdominal muscles, legs, and bum to work together in an integrated way like the way they need to during running.
A sit up exercise is an isolated movement pattern, whereas running is an integrated movement pattern.
The body never works in isolation, so don’t train it in isolation.
The muscles of the body never work in isolation so when a muscle is trained in isolation it needs to be integrated at a later stage.
This is why an exercise that integrates several different muscles like a one legged bridge are great for running.
It acts as an injury prevention exercise, it also increases power and most importantly it increases speed.
Other muscles that need to be strengthened.
The muscle of key joints like the:
The muscles around these joints need to be strengthened and stretched to prevent injuries like runners’ knee.
What about muscle imbalances and injury prevention?
When we run there is at least 3 and a half times your body weight going through your body, and during intense sessions this impact increases on your body.
Other things that could cause an injury are alignment issues like:
limb length discrepancies – which is when one leg is longer than the other
pronation of the foot
Many of these problems can be corrected with orthotics.
During running repetitive stresses are placed on the structures of the body (muscles, ligaments), and providing these forces are low enough for the tendons to handle the body will recover, adapt and grow stronger.
The tendons are meant to stretch like an elastic band than rapidly shorten to release the stored energy caused by the force of the leg contacting the ground.
However, when the forces are to great the tendons fatigue, which causes them to degenerate and over a long period of time leads to injuries like Achilles tendinitis.
In order to with stand the forces the body is going through the core strength exercises I recommend will strengthen the muscles and the ligaments to withstand higher forces and keep you within the injury free zone.
Here are the 9 best core strengthening exercises for runners:
One leg squat
Single leg bridge
Triceps push ups
1) Hamstring curl:
You will need to either wear socks or to use a cloth on a slippery surface. In addition to causing your abdominal exercises to stabilise your back, this exercise is also great for super charging your hamstrings. Your hamstrings are one of the prime movers during running and the knee bend mimics the action performed at the knee.
2) One legged squat:
You will need to keep your chest elevated, shoulder blades squeezed together and maintain good alignment between your knee and second toe as you lower yourself down. This will require your core muscles to work over time in order to help maintain a straight back. Your core muscles will also need to work with your glutes in order to make sure that you don’t fall sideways.
3) Single leg bridge
This exercise is harder than it looks, however this exercise is probably the single most effective exercise you can have in your strength training arsenal. This exercise will both fire your core and your glutes. Sometimes when you run it is possible to develop one glute that fires properly while the other is weak. By training each glute individually you can ensure that both your glutes work equally.
4) Curtsey lunge
This is a great exercise for stabilising the core while working your body in another plane of motion. There are 3 planes of movement. In one plane your body can rotate, while in the other two planes you can side bend or forward bend. During running we spend all are time in the forward bending plane (sagittal plane), which will cause all of the muscles in that plane of motion to get over used, while the muscles working in the other plane can get under used. An example of a muscle that may get under used are the glute medius and minimus muscles which act as stabilisers.
5) Roll out
This exercise is adapted from the swiss ball exercise called swiss ball roll out. As you slide forward you will need to engage your core to keep your back straight. This is a difficult exercise. Make sure you can hold a plank for at least 2 minutes before attempting this exercise.
6) Jack knife
This exercise strengthens the hip flexor and engages the core throughout the movement. Your will work every second until you stop. This exercise is like how the hip bends during running. This means that your core will be stabilising your back in the same way that you need it to during your runs, which is why this is one of the best core exercises that you can do.
7) Press up
Your body is in a similar position to the plank. However, because your body is moving your core will work harder to stabilise the body. Also, you will work your chest as well.
8) Shoulder press
Because your bum is in the air and body is vertical to the floor your core will activate to keep you in position. As your arms fatigue you will want to lose your body position, but you must use your core to maintain form.
9) Triceps push ups
This exercise is also like the plank. You should only have your hands shoulder width apart. Your feet should also be shoulder width apart. Ensure your belly button is pulled in at all times.
Core Exercises Vs Glutes Exercises For Runners
The glutes are one of the biggest muscles in the body. Yet it receives little attention compared to the lower abdominals. Gerald Smith examines the significance of this power house muscle.
The abdominal muscles
By Henry Vandyke Carter – Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body (See “Book” section below)Bartleby.com: Gray’s Anatomy, Plate 392, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=531409
Core training has been commonly prescribed for people with lower back pain and to improve performance.
It is an area poorly understood and many people include different muscles in their definition of the core.
What does the core do?
The core acts as a bridge between the upper and lower body and there is no question of its importance to performance.
Many runners develop over-use injuries which I like to term running imbalance injuries, due to the muscular imbalance caused by just running alone and not incorporating weight training, or stability training into your running regime.
Due to the reliance on just running to improve speed many people don’t develop the core or any other key muscles for injury prevention.
The core plays a key role in stabilising the pelvis (hip region), improving performance and decreasing back pain.
One of the deeper muscles of the core actually raps round into the back and tightens like a corset.
This muscle is called the transverse abdominus. See below.
The core reduces stress on the lower back
This makes the back more rigid and resilient to stress. However, when we consider the most common type of injuries in running or cycling are to the knee and not to the back perhaps it’s worth increasing your focus on the glutes and giving this muscle the focus it truly deserves.
The Gluteus maximus
Can the glutes stabilize as well as the abdominal muscles?
The glutes are also important for stabilising the pelvis, preventing lower back pain, reducing injuries at the knee, and are a power house performance muscle.
I commonly come across people with weak glutes, poor stabilisation of the hip, who think that all they need to do is just strengthen the core and everything else sorts itself out……..
This is not true.
Anatomy of the gluteal muscles
The gluteus muscles are three separate muscles. One of the muscles, which is the one we spend most of our time sitting on, is the power house muscle.
The gluteus maximus is your power house!
It is one of the most powerful muscles in the body and is one of many muscles that provide great hip strength.
Due to the fact that we sit on this muscle all day the constant pressure placed on it can weaken the glutes.
When this muscle becomes weak it can become the source of lower back pain because the lower back has to do more work.
For example, during the running stride after the foot strikes the floor, the body passes over the foot and then the leg extends behind the body.
The glutes play an important role in extending the leg, and if the glutes are weak than the muscular work for the leg extension is carried out by the back and places the strain on the back muscles.
The other two muscles of the glutes have a different role. They are important stabilisers of the hip muscles.
The Gluteus medius and minimus muscles.
Why is hip stabilization important?
Hip stabilization is very important and must go hand in hand with hip strength. Think of the front wheel of the bike you ride.
When you get on your bike you make sure the front wheel is attached tightly.
Now imagine if that wheel is loose and as you put force through the pedals the wheel becomes unsteady, it shakes, it moves from side to side.
Eventually the bike will give way and collapse.
Your hip joint is similar to that bike wheel, and if it is not stable it will lead to an injury.
Well this is what the glutes do for your entire leg.
The wheel falling off would be the equivalent to you getting an injury because your hip can’t transfer the forces properly.
During running three and a half times your body weight is going through your knees, and body.
When your hips are unstable it is actually your knee that will be put in an unfavorable position by the hip, in the same way that the wheel is placed in an unfavorable position by the unstable joint.
This can lead to a knee injury. The two key injuries that manifest themselves are Patelofemoral syndrome (PFS), which is a grinding feeling in your knee when you bend it, or illiotibial band friction syndrome (IBFS), which is where you get a pain on the outside of the knee.
The gleuteus minimus muscle
The glutes are as important as core strength for running.
As you can see the importance of the glutes are comparable to the core. The core plays an important role in protecting the lower back, but so do the glutes.
Some may argue that their influence on reducing lower back pain is greater than the abdominals, but the glutes affect on preventing knee injury are greater, and knee injuries are more prevalent in running, and cycling.
It is important to include exercises for the glutes in your training programme no matter what level you’re at as a runner.
Training the muscles of the glutes should be done in stages.
By that I mean start with easy exercises for stabilisation and strength.
Even if you are a fast runner you can strong legs with poor stability which can lead to an injury.
I recommend these running core exercises for strength and stabilisation.
Gerald has a bachelor’s degree in Exercise, Nutrition & Health. He is an ASA qualified swimming teacher, and a qualified personal trainer. Gerald has developed his own exclusion diet, which he uses to help his clients lose weight.