Core Strengthening for Runners

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Why Core Exercises are Important for Runners

Whether you are running to stay fit or relieve stress, being efficient is key and by that we mean having a strong core. Unfortunately, about 90% of runners have a weak core which results in plateaus in success. A week core makes you prone to doing either too long or too short steps because your pelvis is doing more of the work, swinging from side to side.

Many runners think that having strong legs is enough to increase speed and improve stamina. Strengthening your core is just as important as strengthening your legs. How strong your core is translates to power within the legs to propel your body forward through space.

Our core muscles help us stand upright and distribute the stress of the body’s weight. The core goes beyond all your abdominal muscles including the transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, internal and external obliques and the erector spinae muscles in the lower back. As a runner, having a strong core will benefit you in more ways than one:

  • Increase your efficiency by stabilizing your form.
  • Improve endurance by having a great upper body support that will get you through many miles and hours of training.
  • Improve balance and coordination. This is greatly beneficial for those who are running on unpredictable and challenging trails.
  • Decrease the chances of straining your leg muscles. Strong core will help you lift your legs effortlessly.

Improving muscular strength will not only enhance your performance but reduce your risk of injury. This is especially true for distance running when core muscles become an integral part in the latter stages of a race when your body is starting to tire. The stronger your core is, the longer you can hold your running form and this obviously translates to improved performance.

Core strengthening exercises stabilize your pelvis by keeping it in a neutral position. The back of the legs are able to push the entire body forward without causing a lot of strain. When you are doing more core work, you will notice a big improvement on the way you run. It will be a lot easier and you will have less wear and tear on your joints. Maintaining a strong core is vital to being a good runner.

Coming up with a core workout routine is not that complicated. You don’t need a trainer or fancy workout equipment. What’s great about core strengthening exercises is that you can do them outside after your run. When you are doing abdominal exercises, you need to keep your deep abs active.

Be mindful of the stability of your pelvis and make sure that you are in your correct form. Experts recommend doing core exercises daily but if you are a beginner, you are better off doing them every other day so you can give your muscles a chance to recover. Start with just a few reps and once you get more comfortable, increase the number. Eventually, you will find yourself doing a more challenging and intense core workout routine.

7 Core Exercises Runners Can Benefit From

We already know that having strong legs is a must for runners, but if you want to be more resilient, you need to condition your abdominal muscles as well by doing core strengthening exercises. The best core exercises that will optimize a runner’s performance are those that mimic the way the core muscles are supposed to work when running.

Here are 7 core exercises that will make you a better runner:

#1 – The Plank

A 10-minute plank workout outweighs the benefits of doing crunches for 1 whole hour. Planking is one of the best exercises for your abs. It will not only give you a flat, sexy stomach but it’s very good in strengthening your core to support the entire body when running. This exercise reduces back pain and improves posture.

Some people roll their eyes when they hear the word “plank”. Well, wait until you try it! It’s not as easy as it looks. When done correctly, planks can work your upper and lower abs, oblique muscles and lower back. Planks help activate your core muscles which stabilize the spine and hips.

How to do it

Start by getting into a pushup position, face down on the floor. Bend your elbows and rest the weight of your body on your forearms instead of your hands. Push off the floor to raise your body up off your knees. Form a straight line from your shoulders to your ankles and make sure that you keep your neck and spine neutral.

Tighten your abs by tilting your pelvis and pulling your belly button toward your spine. It’ll help if you do this exercise in front of a mirror so you’ll know if you are executing the move properly.

Hold the position for as long as you can but if you are a beginner, aim for 20 to 30 seconds. Do 3 to 5 reps.

#2 The Superman Pose

The Superman pose strengthens your back muscles. It can also tone your abs, glutes and give your back and waist a sexy shape. With this exercise, you are isolating your lower back and core muscles as you raise your shoulders off the floor. What’s great about this pose is that you can do it while watching your favorite TV show.

How to do it

Lie on the floor with your face down. Extend both your arms out front while keeping your elbows slightly bent. Now lift your chest off the floor using your lower back. Keep your neck and arms aligned with your spine to prevent injury.

Do not lift your chest and legs at the same time as this may strain the disks on in your back. Also, do not raise your head more than 8 inches to avoid hurting your neck. If you want the Superman pose to be more challenging, you can put your hands above your head rather than extending them in front of you.

Try to hold this position for 1 full minute if you can.

Rest for a minute and then do two more sets. To see results, do 3 sets 3 days a week.

#3 – Basic Abdominal Crunches

Oldie but goodie- basic crunches may be old but they work! When performed properly, crunches can improve your abdominal strength. If you include them in your workout routine, you are teaching the muscles in the abdominal region to work in a synchronized manner. This can help you significantly improve your balance and coordination when running.

How to do it

Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and grasp your hands together in front of your chest. If you put your hands behind the head or neck there is a tendancy to pull your head and neck. This can put strain on your upper spine and even cause injury. Just keep your hands in front of your chest.

Lift up your torso to a 45 degree angle. Use your shoulders and core instead of your neck or head to push your upper body forward.

Do 3 sets of 20 repetitions. If you are bored with the basic crunches, you can do other types of crunches such as reverse crunch, vertical leg crunch, long arm crunch and double crunch.

#4 – Side Plank with Leg Lift

This variation of the basic plank is great for runners because it works the entire core particularly the weak muscle called quadratus lumborum. Side plank targets the obliques, gluteal muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps, thigh abductors and adductors. Doing this exercise regularly will not only make you look better but it will also help you become a better runner.

How to do it: Lie on your right side, with both legs straight. Bend the elbow underneath to prop up your body. Your shoulder should be underneath your elbow and your left arm should be resting on the other side. Your forearm should be perpendicular to your body. Your hips, spine and neck should all be aligned.

Breathe out and engage your abdominal muscles and glutes as you hold your position. Make sure you lift your knees and hips away from the floor while keeping the side of your bottom foot in contact with the floor.

Hold for a couple of seconds and lower yourself to your starting position. Repeat on the other side. If you want to increase the intensity of this exercise, you can lift the top leg toward the ceiling while holding the side plank position.

#5 – Bicycle Crunches

This exercise is slightly harder than the basic crunch but it is very good in working your upper and lower abs, hamstrings and quads. It is one of the most effective exercises because it keeps the body moving constantly.

How to do it: Start by lying on your back with your hands behind your head and your legs in the air. Your knees should be pulled towards your chest. Tighten your abs as you lift your shoulder blades. Straighten your right leg and shift your upper body to the left while bringing the right elbow towards the opposite (left) knee. Straighten your left leg and bend your right leg to switch sides. Bring the left elbow to the right knee. Switch sides in a slow pedaling motion.

Doing ten minutes of bicycle crunches everyday will help tone your stomach and strengthen your core.

#6 – Suitcase Deadlift

Running involves moving against gravity in an upright position. But the problem is that a lot of core exercises do not mimic the basic element of running except for a few like the suitcase deadlift. This is a great anti-rotation core stability exercise that is effective in training your obliques on the sides of the torso to do what they are supposed to do during running which is to keep the torso vertically aligned with the legs against resistance. You can either use dumbbells or kettlebells as the “suitcase” to perform this exercise.

How to do it: As the name suggests, you hold the weight as how you would hold a suitcase. Stand with your arms on your side. Hold a dumbbell or kettlebell in one hand and push your hips back. Bend your knees and bring the weight down as close to the floor as you can. Do not round your lower back as this may cause injury. Stand up straight again and repeat the same step.

Do 10 repetitions and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat the exercise on the opposite side.

#7 – Supine March

Supine march is a great core exercise for runners because it trains the body to maintain appropriate tension while the legs move alternately. It looks really simple and easy to do but it actually does a good job in activating the transverse abdominus- the muscle that stabilizes the pelvis and lumbar while running. Supine march will help improve stability and coordination.

How to do it: Lie down with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Put your hands on your hips. Lift your left leg until your calf is parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position and do 15 reps. Repeat the same step to the other leg.

If you find the supine march too easy, you can do the marching supine bridge. To do this exercise, lie flat on the floor and raise your hips. Lift your left leg a few inches off the ground and alternately lift the other as if you are marching.

 Core Exercises for Runners Who Suffer from Back Pain

Many people complain about back pain whenever they do core workout. If you are experiencing discomfort when doing some core exercises, it may be because you have a weak core. Strengthening your core is very important for your posture, balance and coordination. Your core muscles protect the spine and improve your agility and endurance so you can be a more efficient runner.

Core exercises don’t have to hurt. There are several exercises that are suitable for people who are suffering from back pain. Yes, it’s entirely possible to have a great workout without your neck and back taking all the beating!

Check out the exercises below that you can do without hurting your back:

#1 – Reverse Crunches

If it hurts you to do the basic crunches then try the reverse crunch. This exercise will help strengthen your lower abdominal muscles. To start, lie flat on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Put your hands behind your head. Lift your legs and bend your knees up (90 degrees).

There should be a space between your chin and chest. Inhale as you pull your knees in your chest. Hold the position for 2 seconds and exhale as you slowly put your legs back to starting position. Try to do the move with your abs instead of your momentum. You can lift your buttocks a bit to help bring your knees towards your chest.

Do 15 to 20 repetitions and do a set of 3 to 5.

#2 – Bird-Dog Exercise

The bird-dog exercise works your abs without causing discomfort to your lower back. It also targets the butt, back and hips. To start, come to a hands-and-knees position on the floor. Your fingers should be facing forward. Pull your abdominal muscles and tighten your glutes. Make sure your spine stays in a neutral position.

Now, lift your right hand and extend your arm straight in front of you. Lift your left knee and extend your leg behind you (hip height).

Do these 2 steps simultaneously. Hold this position for one count and return to starting position. Repeat the step on the other side. Alternate sides for 5 to 10 times.

#3 – Half Bicycle Crunches

The bicycle crunch can be very painful to those with back problems. If this is the case for you then you can do half bicycle crunches. This workout is great for strengthening your entire abs as it engages more abdominal muscles. To do the exercise, lie on your back and rest your fingertips (just your fingertips) behind your ears.

Raise both legs off the ground and bend your knees at 90 degree angle. Bend the right knee further up and bring your left elbow towards your knee. Use your abs to lift and bend instead of your shoulders. Slowly come down to the starting position and repeat the same step.

Do 15 to 20 repetitions. Repeat the same step with the left knee and right elbow.

#4 – Hip Lifts

This is one of the easiest core strengthening exercises and it actually feels good on the back. The hip lift will help strengthen your rectus abdominis- the muscle in between the ribs and hips, as well as your oblique muscles. Lie flat on your back and put your arms at your sides. Slowly raise your hips a bit off the ground by pushing your legs straight up. Use your abs to do this exercise. Make sure you tighten your abs and glutes while holding this position.

Do 20 repetitions. If you want it to be more challenging, you can raise both of your legs towards the ceiling and lift your hips off the floor. Inhale as you slowly lower your hips to the floor.

#5 – Bent Knee Stretch

Another winner for back pain sufferers is the bent knee stretch. This exercise will help keep your back relaxed as you flex your abdominal muscles. The bent knee stretch is also a great exercise for beginners because it’s really not challenging.

Start by lying flat on your back with your legs outstretched. Put your left knee up to your chest and hold it for 10 seconds. Stretch the leg out and repeat the same step with your right leg.

Do 10 or more repetitions. You can also do this exercise to warm up before running.

Amplify Your Running Performance

Incorporating core strengthening exercises into your routine is fairly easy. Just like anything else, you just have to make time for it. If you want to be a more efficient runner, you should know how important it is to develop a strong core.

The key is to do exercises that will engage the same muscles that you use while running. These muscles will help you finish fast and decrease your chances of injury. Not to mention give you the stamina that you need when everyone else in the race is dog-tired.

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