Generally, the best core workouts for runners use functional core exercises, which means that the specific core exercises in your running core workout routine best replicate actual real-life movements and demands of the core muscles, particularly as it pertains to running and overall fitness.
For this reason, the best core workout for runners should focus on exercises that require both strength with mobility and strength with stability in the core muscles.
So, what are the best core exercises for runners, and what are the benefits of a core workout for runners?
In this guide, we will discuss which type of core exercises all runners should add to their routines and provide you with step-by-step instructions for the following exercises that make up the ultimate core workout for runners.
- High Plank Clocks
- Dead Bug
- Walking Lunges With Trunk Twists
- Push-Ups With Oblique Squeezes
- Weighted Superman
- Side Plank With Thoracic Rotation
Let’s dive in!
What Are the Best Core Exercises for Runners?
When you run, the core needs to provide an extremely stable base to support your spine and serve as a foundational anchor from which your upper body and lower body can move in the reciprocal pattern used in the running stride.
You also need to have strong obliques, deep core muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and abs and lower back muscles to help support optimal breathing mechanics, running form, hip flexion, pelvic stability and reduce stress and strain on the low back and hips when you run.
For this reason, the best core workout for runners involves performing both isometric holds, such as planks to build anti-rotation core stability, as well as concentric and eccentric contractions to build muscular strength in core muscles with dynamic core exercises for runners.
It is also helpful to include functional exercises that utilize the core muscles but don’t necessarily target just the core muscles in the way that many ab workouts for runners do.
Research shows that free-weight exercises can be more effective at strengthening several core muscles.
Examples of functional core exercises for runners include walking lunges or squats on an unstable surface.
Finally, because the best core workouts for running prepare your body for running itself as well as real-life activities outside of the gym or another exercise arena, functional core workouts for runners usually use free weights and bodyweight exercises rather than weight training machines.
This is because weight training machines move through a fixed plane of motion, which means that you do not need to stabilize your body, activate your core, coordinate your movement, or balance in a way that you do when you are running or performing movements such as squatting, pressing or pushing, pulling, etc. in your everyday life.
The strength training machine—such as the abdominal crunch weight machine or the oblique twist weight machine-dictates the path of movement rather than you needing to control and stabilize your body yourself.
The Ultimate Core Workout for Runners
There are many benefits of doing core workouts for runners.
A strong core can improve balance and stability, posture when you run, reduce the risk of low back pain from running, improve lower limb function, improve sprint speed and athletic performance, and strengthen your diaphragm for better breathing mechanics for running.
Here are some of the best core strengthening exercises for runners:
#1: High Plank Clocks
The best core workouts for runners include anti-rotation core exercises to help strengthen your core muscles for functional stability.
This particular anti-rotation ab exercise also strengthens your shoulders.
Here are the steps:
- Get in a push-up position with a resistance band around your wrists. Maintain tension on the band at all times.
- Keeping your body as still and stable as possible, step one hand out at a time to each position of the clock.
- For example, move the right hand to 1:00, then back to neutral. Then out to 2:00 and back to neutral.
- When you get to 6:00, switch to moving the left hand to 7:00, 8:00, and so on.
- Perform five full cycles of the clock, moving as slowly as possible.
#2: Dead Bug
The dead bug is more than just an ab exercise for runners as it helps improve overall core stability by strengthening your lower abs and pelvic floor muscles.
The position helps train you to activate your deep core muscles and engage your pelvic floor to stabilize your hips as your legs move in opposition.
As you get stronger, you can use ankle weights for added resistance.
Here are the steps:
- Lie on your back with your knees bent to 90 degrees, shins parallel to the floor, feet up in the air off the floor, and arms pointing straight up towards the ceiling.
- Engage your abs, keeping your lower back on the floor.
- Slowly lower your right leg until your heel almost touches the floor while simultaneously extending your left arm back towards the floor without touching it.
- Hover here for a second, and then lift your right leg and left arm back to the starting position.
- Repeat the movement with the opposite arm and leg.
- Alternate sides with each rep until you complete 15 reps per side.
#3: Walking Lunges With Trunk Twists
Walking lunges is a good functional strength training exercise because it helps build unilateral strength for running.
To this end, although the lunge is generally thought of as a lower-body exercise rather than a core exercise for runners, if you move very slowly and deliberately as you walk forward and lunge, you have to activate your core muscles in the exact same way you do when you run, making this an excellent functional core workout exercise for runners.
Adding the trunk twist further engages the obliques to really target your core muscles.
As when doing squats, you want to make sure that your knee is not traveling over the toes on the front foot with this exercise.
- To perform a walking lunge with a trunk twist, stand up straight with good posture, and your arms outstretched in front of your chest, holding a medicine ball or heavy kettlebell.
- Take a giant step forward with your right leg and then bend both knees to drop your body straight down, keeping your torso vertical, as you simultaneously twist your torso 90° to the right to bring the medicine ball all the way to the right, making sure to keep your arms fully extended the entire time.
- When both knees are bent to 90°, press through your front heel and rotate the medicine ball back to neutral.
- Without stepping your feet back together to stand regularly, keep driving your back leg forward into another giant step in front of your body and then drop down into another lunge.
- Rotate the medicine ball to the left when the left foot is now in front.
- Take 15 to 20 steps per leg, remembering to perform your trunk twist to the same side of the foot that is in the front position of the lunge.
#4: Push-Ups With Oblique Squeezes
Love them or hate them, push-ups are one of the best functional core exercises for runners that simultaneously strengthen your pushing muscles, which are the muscles in the chest, shoulders, upper back, and triceps in the back of your upper arm.
Adding the oblique squeeze further progresses this movement to become an ab exercise for runners as much as it is a full-body strengthening movement.
Plus, by lifting up one leg during this push-up exercise, you reduce your base of support and have to utilize your core to provide a tremendous amount of stability in the moving plank position.
In this way, this is one of the best core exercises for runners because it works on core stability and strength as well as hip mobility, pelvic floor stability, coordination and balance, and upper body strength.
Beginners can start on their knees or even up against a wall.
Here are the steps to perform this core exercise for runners:
- Place your hands stacked under your shoulders and your toes on the floor behind you, making sure that your body is in a straight line from your head to your heels.
- Keeping your core and glutes squeezed, bend your elbows to lower your chest towards the floor, trying to keep your elbows tucked in towards your torso rather than flared out towards the side. As you do so, bring your right knee up and out to the side towards your shoulder as if doing a frog leg position.
- When your chest is hovering just above the floor, pause and squeeze your obliques as you hold your bent leg up to the side.
- Press through the palms of your hands to straighten your elbows back up.
- Alternate the leg you drive up and out to the side.
- Perform 10 to 25 reps.
#5: Weighted Superman
It’s important not to neglect the lower back in running core workouts.
For this lower back exercise for runners, start wearing ankle weights and holding a dumbbell to make this bodyweight exercise more difficult as your core strength improves.
Here are the steps:
- Lie on your stomach with your arms extended overhead, holding onto a dumbbell or medicine ball between your hands.
- Squeeze your glutes and lower back muscles to simultaneously lift your upper body, head, chest, and lower body so that only your stomach and the top of your hips stay on the floor. Keep your arms straight when you pick up and lift the weight.
- Hold the top position for 2-3 seconds as you squeeze your glutes and low back extensors and then slowly lower back down.
- Complete 15-20 reps.
#6: Side Plank With Thoracic Rotation
While the basic side plank is a great core exercise for runners, you can progress the side plank by adding weight to the movement.
This makes it much more difficult for your obliques, rectus abdominis, and deep core muscles to stabilize your body.
Here are the steps to do so:
- Get any side plank position either on your forearm or balancing on your hand with your arm extended, depending on your level of fitness. Hold a light dumbbell in the hand on top.
- From the side plank, slowly rotate your pelvis towards the floor while reaching your top arm with the weight underneath your body, bringing the hand to tap your shoulder blade.
- While maintaining your balance, rotate back to the starting position, lifting the weight all the way up to the ceiling.
- Move as slowly as possible, trying to hold each side for 30-60 seconds with about 12 twists per minute.
For more core and ab workout for runners ideas, check out our guide here.