The Best Core-Strengthening Exercises for Runners

Featured Article, Fitness, Workout Plans
on February 1, 2013

Sure, running requires powerful legs, but core-strengthening exercises are almost just as important for runners. A strong core, which comprises the muscles of the abdominals, lower back and glutes, is essential for preventing injury and fatigue in runners, says Laura Houston, a master Chi Running instructor in Seattle. “A strong core is vital for stabilizing the pelvis to prevent lateral motion, which is hard on the IT bands, and to keep you from bending at the waist, which leads to low back pain,” she says. We got Laura’s top two favorite core-strengthening exercises, as well as moves from two more top-notch running coaches. Incorporate these exercises into your repertoire to lower your chances of injury and increase your success on the streets, trails or treadmill.

RELATED: 5 New Core Exercises

The Move Maker: Danny Haralson, personal trainer, running coach, and founder of Run University

The Move: Dolphin Plank

Woman exercising with the dolphin plank.

How to: Lie face down on a mat, resting your upper body on your forearms and your elbows flared out to the side. Push off the floor, coming onto the tips of your toes while remaining on your forearms. Keep your back flat, and contract your abs to maintain a straight line from your head to your heels. Hold for 20 to 60 seconds, then lower and repeat for 3-5 reps.

Why it works: “The Plank is ideal for runners, because it incorporates the entire core–the abs, back and stabilizer muscles, which are all essential for proper posture,” Haralson says.

The Move: Rocking Chair

Woman doing the rocking chair exercise.
How to: Lie on your back on a mat with your arms extended behind you. Raise your legs 6 to 12 inches off the floor; then lower them to the floor while contracting your abdominals and raising your upper body 6 to 12 inches off the floor. Continue this “rocking” motion, attempting to rock 10-20 times, all the while keeping your arms extended (You should not see your hands, ever!).
Why it works: “This move involves a constant engagement of the entire abdominal cavity, improving muscular endurance and strength,” Haralson says.


The Move Maker: Angela Reckart, assistant cross country and track & field coach at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill

The Move: Side Plank with Knee Flexion

Woman working out with side plank.
How to: Lie on your right side, propping your upper body on your right elbow. Stack feet one on top of the other (for an additional challenge, place them on a Bosu ball). Raise your hips off the ground, creating a straight line from feet to head; then flex your left knee up to your chest, and return it back to starting position. Lower your body back to the mat, and repeat 12-15 times, then switch sides. Do this core-strengthening exercise 2-3 times per week.
Why it works: “This move strengthens the obliques, transverse abdominals, and hip muscles, which are vital for avoiding fatigue and maintaining good form,” Reckart says.

The Move: Walking Lunge with a Twist

Woman showing how to do the walking lunge.
How to: Hold a 5- to 8-pound medicine ball above your head and step forward with your right foot into a controlled lunge, twisting your core to the right and lowering the medicine ball to your right hip. Rise out of the lunge and lift the ball back up over your head. Repeat on the left side, continuing in a walking lunge until you’ve completed 12-15 reps on each leg. Do this core-strengthening exercise 2-3 times a week.
Why it works: “This exercise places emphasis on unilateral strength and synergistic muscle groups,” the smaller muscle groups that work together to help your prime muscle movements, Reckart says. “Synergistic muscles can tend to be underworked in runners, creating muscle imbalances that can eventually lead to injury.”
The Move Maker: Laura Houston, master Chi Running instructor in Seattle

The Move: Sit Up In Your Chair

Woman working out in chair.
How to: Sit on a firm chair, leaving 2 inches between you and the chair’s back. Plant your feet hip-width apart on the floor and lift your spine to the sky. Balance over your sit bones, and feel them on the seat. Then gently roll back just until you are off the sit bones. Without using your upper body, pull yourself slowly back onto your sit bones. Repeat 4 – 5 times, each time noticing your lower abdominal muscles working.
Why it works: “A stable pelvis is essential to preventing IT band syndrome, gives support to the hip joints, and keeps you from bending at the waist,” Houston says. “Runners who sit a lot tend to lose touch with their core muscles. This exercise helps one develop a mindful pattern of engaging the core, whether running or not.”

The Move: One-Legged Stand with Sweeping Arms

Woman exercising with one leg stand.
How to: Stand on one leg with your low abs lightly engaged, gently pushing your standing foot down as you reach up through the crown of your head. Bring your arms straight out in front of you and place your palms together. Without locking your standing knee, begin to sweep the arms slowly back and forth across the body. Continue for 30 seconds or until you become tired, then switch sides. Repeat three times on each leg, and aim to build up to two minutes at a time on each side.
Why it works: “Most people have a side they use for mobility and a side for stability,” Houston says. “If the side for mobility has weak spots in it, that will eventually lead to injury. Shoring up that weak side will help prevent that.”