The 6 Best Core Exercises For Runners

Here’s our pick of the best core exercises for runners – core muscles are some of the most important muscles in the body but are often the most overlooked when it comes to a running training plan. This is especially true when it comes to those who spend so much of their time running.

If you are serious about your marathon or running training then you want to dedicate time to work your core throughout your training program. Neglecting your core muscles will hurt your performance and progress throughout your training.

text saying 'The 6 Best Core Exercises For Runners' and 'Marathon Handbook', with a lady in pushup position

Why is a strong core important in running?

Your core holds everything together and stabilizes the body during exercise. A strong core helps to prevent your body from swaying too heavily and prevents instability when running.

By keeping you stable, your body can more effectively hold its posture and maintain a good running form over long periods of running, which in turn provides more efficient use of energy during your runs.

Put simply, when your core is strong, everything can work together more efficiently and in proper form to keep you in the game longer. It also gives you better balance, making you more stable over uneven terrain and when trail running, meaning that you have a lower injury risk.

Related: Weightlifting for Runners

a shirtless man with strong abs in black and white

What muscles make up your core?

Your core muscles are the muscle groups that make up your trunk and central body mass including your obliques and abdominals. They are also made up of some of the muscle groups in your lower back and upper legs such as your spinal erectors and your glutes. 

This means that just doing sit-ups or crunches isn’t enough to work your core to its maximum. Proper core workouts should include exercises that work your lower back and glutes as well as your abdominal muscles.

What core exercises are the best?

There are so many core workout ideas out there that it would be easy to become overwhelmed by what are considered the best ones to do. There are many opinions about the best exercises available but we will focus on 3 here that you SHOULD be doing and another 3 that you CAN be doing.

The 6 Best Core Exercises For Runners

The 3 main exercises you should be concentrating on are an isometric hold, a dynamic movement, and a supplementary exercise. These exercises will work the full range of core muscles and can be modified to work additional muscles or to provide an extra challenge once they become too easy. 

Note: As most of these exercises require you to be on the floor, it would be worth investing in a good yoga mat for your comfort.

1st exercise: The plank

The plank is one of the easiest exercises to do but is easily one of the least enjoyable when done over a long period. A plank is done for time, not reps, so set a timer at the start and see how long you can hold it. Start at 30 seconds and do that 3 times and after a while increase time and the number of times you perform the exercise.

a lady doing the plank on the side of a running track

How to perform the plank: 

  1. Pick a spot on the floor that is even and you can lie on comfortably and lay down flat on your front.
  2. Lift yourself off the ground onto your elbows (or hands) and toes keeping them as your only points of contact.
  3. Hold your body steady and in a straight line from your ankles through your trunk and to your shoulders.
  4. Don’t allow your body to dip when performing the plank.
  5. Performing the plank on your hands (as per step 2) rather than your elbows increases the difficulty of the exercise as you have to also focus on keeping your arms straight and your elbows locked at all times.

To make the plank harder you can turn it into a dynamic moving exercise by moving yourself up and down from your elbows to your hands over the course of your plank time.

Just remember to keep your body locked and straight when moving up and down.

2nd exercise: The Lying Leg Raise

Leg raises are a great way to build a stronger core whilst adding your hips into the equation. Perform them for sets of reps or see how many you can do over a period of time.

To help out your lower back you can place your hands under your glutes as you lie down or, if you’re happy to, place your hands out to your side to stabilize yourself.

a lady on her back on a yoga mat on grass with her feet pointed directly up into the air, the sea is in the background

How to perform the lying leg raise:

  1. As with the plank, lay on the floor but this time on your back, placing your hands either underneath your glutes or out to the sides to stabilize yourself.
  2. Keeping your legs straight, lift them off the floor and up to a 90-degree angle above your body.
  3. Lower your legs back to their starting position but keep them 2-3 inches off the ground. Lowering them back to this position is 1 rep.
  4. Repeat this as many times as required for your set, or until your time runs out.

3rd exercise: 1 Legged Deadlift

The 1 legged deadlift can be performed with either a comfortable weight or without and is excellent for helping to build your glutes, lower back, and balance. To make it harder either increase the weight or your repetitions, but always perform the same amounts of reps on both legs.

a lady outstretched in the '1 legged deadlift' position, standing on 1 leg on a path in between some trees and grass

How to do perform the 1 legged deadlift:

  1. Use a spot where you can lean forward and have your legs stretched behind you as you perform the exercise. Start on either your right or left leg.
  2. Hinging at the hips, tilt your body forward, keeping your back straight.
  3. Reach your hands to the floor in front of you as you hinge yourself towards the ground. At the bottom of your exercise, your body and rear leg should be in a straight line. You can also start with your hands raised above your head and keep them in line with your torso all the way through the motion.
  4. Return your body to its original position keeping your torso straight all the way through.
  5. Make sure to perform the same amount of reps on both of your legs.

4th exercise: Hollow hold

A hollow hold is a static hold done from your back, whilst on the floor. This exercise is done for time rather than reps so set the clock and go.

a lady on a wooden floor in a studio in the 'hollow hold' position

How to perform the hollow hold:

  1. Whilst lying on your back stretch your arms and legs out as far as they can go.
  2. When ready, start your timer and raise your arms and feet off the floor around 18-24” keeping your arms and legs straight.
  3. Hold this position, focusing on keeping your abdominal muscles tight and activated.
  4. Release when the timer ends.

5th exercise: Ankle taps

Ankle taps are great to really work and burn your core when you’re feeling up for it. They’re incredibly simple to do and will help work both your abdominal muscles as well as your obliques.

a lady doing a sit up in a gym

How to perform the ankle taps:

  1. Sit down on your mat and bring your feet up to your bottom as if you were going to perform a sit-up.
  2. Raise your shoulder blades off the floor in a partial crunch. You should feel this working right in your abdominals.
  3. For a set amount of time, reach down with your arm and tap the ankle on the same side.
  4. Then, whilst bringing this arm back up, reach down to your opposite ankle with the other hand.
  5. Repeat this over and over, not allowing your shoulder-blades to touch the floor, keeping your core muscles engaged.
  6. Continue until you’ve reached your number of reps or time limit.

6th exercise: Superman/Skydivers

This final exercise is perfect for working your lower back muscles, especially your spinal erectors. This helps balance out your core workout so that you strengthen your back as well as your front.

a lady in a the superman exercise pose on a yoga mat on a beach

How to perform Superman/Skydivers:

  1. Lying flat on your mat again but face down this time.
  2. Bring your arms out in front of you then bend them in slightly at the elbows.
  3. When ready, raise your arms, legs, and chest off the ground. The only point of contact you should have with the ground is your belly.
  4. If performed correctly you should feel the work in your spinal muscles that are holding up your arms, legs, and chest. You should look like a skydiver falling through the sky, hence the name.
  5. Release the hold once you reach your time limit.

Wrapping Up Your Core

Core work should be a major part of any runner’s training program. Strengthening your core not only makes your running more efficient but improves your balance and will help prevent injuries down the road by increasing your stabilization and ensuring you maintain proper form when running for increased periods.

Start utilizing these 6 best core exercises for runners workouts, if you haven’t already, and you should start to see a big improvement in your game down the line.

You can use the above exercises as inspiration and a starting point to build your own custom core workouts. Listen to your body and find what works for you.

Just remember – start low with the number of reps and sets you perform and work your way up over time, especially if you haven’t done any kind of targeted ab training in the past.

Photo of author
Thomas Watson is an ultra-runner, UESCA-certified running coach, and the founder of MarathonHandbook.com. His work has been featured in Runner's World, Livestrong.com, MapMyRun, and many other running publications. He likes running interesting races and playing with his two tiny kids. More at his bio.

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