9 Core Exercises for Runners

We all know it's good for us, but do we do it? Strength training is one of the most common parts of a training plan runners avoid - that's what I usually hear when I ask them about their training week. Most of us runners are time poor, so if there is a small window to exercise, we strap on the boots and hit the pavement or trails and put the cross training and conditioning on the backburner.

Strength training for runners doesn't mean hitting PB's in the squat rack or grunting with heavy weights in the gym. You can get quantifiable benefits in your running out of a structured strength routine with only you and a small section of floor at home, without the need to spend too much time at a gym or in a group class. 

In this article, we'll look at 9 of my go to core exercises you can do at home. These exercises can be structured into a core specific routine for around 20 minutes in duration, to be done anytime throughout the week.

Developing a strong core will improve your running efficiency and importantly reduce your risk of injury. Good running form is achieved through a strong body from head to toe. If you have hit a plateau with your running, or want to break through a distance or time barrier at your next marathon or ultra distance running race, add a core strength circuit into your weekly routine to support progression in your running.

Bird dog

Targets: Abdominals, gluteal muscles, thighs and lower back

Instruction: Start in a table top position with your hands on the ground directly underneath your shoulders and your knees at a 90 degree angle. Keep hands shoulder width apart and knees hip width apart. Start with small movements by lifting your opposite and hand and leg a few inches off the floor to get used to the movement, holding a few seconds then lowering back to the start position. When you are comfortable with this, lift your opposite arm and leg and extend to a straight line extending away from your body. As you progress through reps your range of motion should improve slightly. Extend to a point where you feel a stretch but not to a point where you feel pain or overextension. Keep the abs stabilised throughout the entire movement, working to minimise extra motion through your hips.

Deadbugs

Target: Abdominals (obliques, trunk muscles), hip Flexors

Instruction: Start by lying completely flat on your back on the ground. Bend the left leg so that the knee is above your core and the lower part of your leg is parallel to the ground. With a straight right arm, raise it so that it points to the sky.

Start the movement by lowering the left leg and right arm and at the same time raising the right leg and left arm. Continue for a set amount of reps or time. Keep the head rested on the ground to reduce stress on the neck, focus on pushing the belly button down to the floor, trying not to arch the back. Keep the arms and legs off the ground throughout the movement for added effort.

Advance the exercise by holding a medicine ball in the hand as it lowers to the ground.

Scissor Kicks

Targets: Abdominals, glutes, quads and adductors.

Instruction: Start by lying on your back with you legs straight out in front. Your hands can be placed just under your buttocks to take stress off your lower back during the movement.

With a slight bend in the knee, raise each leg into the air to a height you feel a stretch, but not over stretching or pain. Repeat with the alternate leg and continue like a pair of scissors, alternating for a set amount of reps or time.

Maintain the intensity by lowering the leg to only a few inches off the ground, not allowing it to rest throughout the movement.

Flutter Kicks

Targets: Lower Abdominals and hip flexors

Instruction: Start by lying on your back with you legs straight out in front. Your hands can be placed just under your buttocks to take stress off your lower back during the movement.

With a slight bend in the knee, raise each leg into the air only a short distance, approximately one to two feet in the air. Repeat with the alternate leg and continue like a pair of scissors, alternating for a set amount of reps or time at quick speed.

Maintain the intensity by lowering the leg to only a few inches off the ground, not allowing it to rest throughout the movement.

This exercise is more intense than scissor kicks as your lower abs are engaged at a stronger contraction the entire time.

Butterfly Sit Ups

Target: Transverse abdominis, rectus abdominal muscles, obliques and hip flexors

Instruction: Start in an upright seated position with your knees open and the soles of your feet together. Lie back to the ground. To roll up, either use your hands above your head to build some momentum or keep folded across your chest.

Focus on using your core muscles to drive you upper body up to a seated position.

Lower your torso slowly and controlled back to a lying position and repeat.

Bicycle Crunches

Targets: Rectus abdominis, obliques and hips

Instruction: Lie flat on your back with your right leg raised at a 90 degree angle and your left leg flat on the ground. Keep your lower back pressed to the floor and raise you head and shoulders slightly.

Place your hands on the side of your head. Your hands are there for stability and to align your elbows to your knees, not to pull your head up. Twist your left elbow to travel across your body in the direction of your right knee.

This is your starting position. Work through the exercise by lowering and raising each leg and twisting your elbows across your body to meet each knee.

Focus on using your abdominal muscles to raise and twist your torso rather your head and neck.

Plank Around the World

Target: Erector spinae, rectus abdominis and transverse abdominis

Instruction: Start in a standard plank position which is your forearms are on the ground with a 90 degree bend in your elbows, directly under your shoulders. Your body is a straight line and parallel to the ground with your toes on the ground.

Whilst keeping your core stabilised, raise your left arm reaching out to the front of you then lower back to the original position. Repeat with your right arm, then raise your right leg, raise your right leg behind you then lower.

Repeat with your left leg. Continue around your body for a set amount of reps or for time.

High Plank T Rotation

Target: Shoulder muscles, lat muscles, glutes and rectus abdominis including obliques

Instruction: Start in a push-up or high plank position with hands under the shoulders. Keep you legs straight directly behind the body about hip-width apart. 

Engage the thighs and glutes while straightening the left arm and pressing it into the floor. At the same time, lift the right hand up and twist the hips and shoulders to raise the right arm up towards the sky.

As you lower the right arm, press your hand into the floor, and twist the hips and shoulders to alternate sides, lifting the left hand into the air.

Russian Twist

Target: Obliques, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, hip flexors, erector spinae

Instruction: Start in a seated position with your feat on the floor, lower your torso backwards to find a balance point and hold that position with your core muscles.

While maintaining a straight spine clasp your hands together and reach either side of your torso in a twisting movement, slightly touching the ground with your hands as you twist.

For beginners, keep your feet on the ground or if you do elevate your feet, cross them to create more stability.

Advance the exercise by elevating your feet from the ground, or holding onto a weight as you twist.

Next, how do we piece it all together? I would normally prescribe these exercises in a circuit based session, either time based or rep based.  I'd also choose four exercises that worked all parts of my abdominals, including targeting the glutes and hip flexors, and alternate the movement from facing the ground to a seated position or on my back on the ground.

A sample time based workout would be below:

4 exercises: 1 minute work, 1 minute rest x 3 rounds (24 minutes)

1 min Russian Twist
1 min rest

1 min High Plank T Rotation
1 min rest

1 min Deadbug
1 min rest

1 min Bird Dog
1 min rest

A sample repetition based workout would be below:

4 exercises: rep based, 1 minute rest between sets. Work to a capped time of 20 minutes

Scissor kicks x 60
1 min rest

Bird dog x 20
1 min rest

Butterfly sit ups x 20
1 min rest

Plank around the world x 15 rotations
1 min rest

Interested to learn more with your running?
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Enjoy implementing some core work into your training week & see the difference it makes!

 


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