13 Essential Core Exercises for Runners

13 Essential Core Exercises for Runners

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We know that to improve your running, you have to run. This is classic specificity in action—you train what you’re looking to improve. It reminds me of this great quote: “You can’t plant potatoes and expect to harvest carrots.”

Genius, isn’t it? But this doesn’t mean that you can skip core workouts and only run. Strength and core exercises will actually help your running and prevent injuries. Many runners know this but they’re not sure when to do these workouts or what to do ? until today.

Two Core Workouts to Start Doing This Week

First, understand that your “core” isn’t just your abs. It also includes your hamstrings, glutes, hips, lower back and oblique muscles. Core routines for runners should target these areas in order to prevent running injuries and maintain health.

There are two different types of core workouts that runners should focus on: general strength and targeted hip and glute strength.

General strength includes all of the muscles previously mentioned. While it’s not particularly focused, a well-rounded core program can improve your athleticism, reduce injuries, and make you a more efficient runner.

Core Workout #1: Focus on Your Entire Core

One of the most comprehensive workouts is the Standard Core Routine, which includes six moves repeated 2 to 3 times for one minute each. It’s simple, but it’s not easy. Here are the exercises:

  1. Modified Bicycle: Lie on your back and hold one leg up in the air. Your thigh should be perpendicular to your body and your shin parallel to the ground. Hold your other leg 2 to 3 inches off the ground. Hold for several seconds and switch legs. Make sure your lower back is in a neutral position during the entire exercise. You can put one hand on the small of your back to gauge this—make sure your back neither presses down or lifts up from your hand.
  1. Plank: Lie on your stomach and prop your weight on your forearms and toes. Keep a straight line from your head to your feet, and hold this position for the entire exercise.
  2. Bridge: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground. Lift your hips so there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Extend one leg straight out, hold for several seconds, then put it back down on the ground and repeat. Make sure your hips don’t dip and don’t allow your butt to sag to the ground.
  3. Side Plank: On your side, lift your body so your weight is resting on one forearm and the side of one foot. There should be a straight diagonal line from your head to your feet. I usually do 10 lateral leg raises during this exercise as an advanced form of the exercise.
  4. Modified Bird Dog: In a table position, lift your left arm so it’s parallel to the ground. At the same time, lift your right leg so your thigh is parallel to the ground and your shin is perpendicular. Your knee should be bent at 90 degrees and your glute muscles activated. Hold for several seconds and switch sides.
  5. Supine Leg Lift: Lie on your back with your weight on your elbows and heels. Lift your hips and keep a straight line from your toes to your shoulders. Lift one leg about eight inches off the ground, hold for several seconds, and repeat with the opposite leg.

You can do these core circuits 2 or 3 times for 30 seconds to 1 minute per exercise, depending on your ability. Check out the video of these exercises.

Core Workout #2: Focus on Hips and Glutes

The next type of workout is more focused on the hips and glutes because these two muscle groups are weak in most runners. Because we spend the majority of our days sitting down, both are typically tight and don’t function they way they’re supposed to.

The hip and glute muscles have also been implicated in a variety of running injuries, from IT Band Syndrome to Runner’s Knee. They control the legs during the running stride and are responsible for making sure your legs move the way they were designed to move.

Fortunately, increasing hip and glute strength is relatively simple. Follow this strengthening routine that only takes 10 minutes, and you’ll see improvement in as little as a few days.

Here are the exercises:

  1. Lateral Leg Raises: Lie on your right side with a theraband around your ankles. Lift your left leg to about 45 degrees in a controlled manner, then lower. I do 30 reps per side.
  2. Clam Shells: Lie on your right side with your knees together and a theraband around your lower thighs. Your thighs should be about 45 degrees from your body and your knees bent at 90 degrees. Open your legs like a clamshell but don’t move your pelvis—the motion should not rock your torso or pelvic girdle. Keep it slow and controlled. I do 30 reps on each leg.
  3. Hip Thrusts: Lie on your back with your weight on your upper back. Your legs will be bent at the knee. Lift one leg so your weight is all on one leg and your back. Lower your butt almost to the ground and thrust upward by activating your glutes. This exercise is great for glute strength and hip stability. I do 25 reps on each leg.
  4. Side-Steps/Shuffle: With a theraband around your ankles and knees slightly bent, take 10 steps laterally. The band should be tight enough so it provides constant resistance during all steps. Still facing the same direction, take another 10 steps back to your starting position. That is one set. I like to do five sets. This exercise will look like a slow-motion version of a basketball “defense” drill.
  5. Pistol Squats: These are simply one-legged squats. The key to a successful pistol squat is to stay upright (don’t lean forward), keep the motion slow and controlled, and make sure your knee does not collapse inward.
  6. Hip Hikes: Stand on your right foot. With your pelvis in a neutral position, drop the left side so it is several inches below the right side of your pelvic bone. Activate your right hip muscle and lift your left side back to its neutral position. I do 20 reps per side.
  7. Iron Cross: This dynamic stretch will help you feel loose after the previous strength exercises. Lie on your back with your arms out at your sides and swing your right leg over your torso and up to your left hand. Repeat with your left leg; do 20 reps total.

Perform one set of these exercises 1 to 3 times per week. Check out the video of these exercises.

When Should I Schedule My Core Workouts?

Now that you know the exercises that can keep you healthy and running strong, when should you schedule them in your weekly training?

First, you should do these workouts after your running workouts. They serve as a good cool down, and will help you recover. Even though you might think the opposite, these workouts can actually reduce soreness in your legs.

Next, think about what days to do core work. There’s a principle that works well for most runners when it comes to scheduling these sessions: Remember to make your hard days harder and your easy days easier. This means that you should do the longer and more difficult routines after your longer and more difficult running workouts.

If you run four days per week, you should alternate with the two routines above after each of your runs, completing both of them twice every week. Many runners think they should do them on their rest days, but it’s best to do nothing on those days to really prioritize recovery.

For those runners who run every day, you’ll want to do these two routines after your long run, faster workouts, and any days that are moderate but not super easy.

Yoga, dynamic flexibility or even Active Isolated Stretching is best to do after your easy runs.

Core workouts that are designed for runners will keep you healthy, improve your running form, and help you maintain your posture at the end of a race when you’re really tired.

Now you just have to schedule them, and you’re ready to get strong.

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