6 Core Exercises to Make You a Stronger, More Efficient Runner

A physical therapist instructs a runner how to do a lift off exercise

Building a strong core will make you a more efficient runner, but it’s important to work your entire core.

The word “core” is often associated with abdominal muscles, but those washboard abs are only part of the group of muscles that make up a runner’s core, says physical therapist Wes Miller, of AntiFragile Physical Therapy. A person’s core muscles are any muscles that attach to the spine.

“So, everything from the muscles of your neck, all the way down to the muscles of your hips, are really your functional core,” Miller says.

Your core is important because it stabilizes every part of your body when you run. Those muscles improve your balance and help protect you from common running injuries while also keeping the rest of your body from fatiguing too quickly.

Here’s a quick core workout runners can do without stepping foot in a gym:

Core Exercises for Runners

  1. Planks
  2. Lift offs (a.k.a. Supermans)
  3. Kneeling shoulder press
  4. Hamstring bridges
  5. Lateral walk with resistance band
  6. Single leg deadlift
A woman does a plank as part of a core workout for runners

Planks

To get into a plank, put your elbows on the ground, and position them directly beneath your shoulders. Relax your shoulders and neck, pull your belly button in slightly and then straighten your legs behind you. Make sure your back remains in a straight, neutral position—if your back gets tired first, your form is off.

Beginners should hold for five to 10 seconds. Work up to longer holds—45 seconds to a minute—as you get stronger.

A physical therapist instructs a runner how to do a lift off exercise

Lift Offs

The lift off (or Superman) works muscles that runners sometimes forget about: the lower back, mid-back and shoulders.

Start by lying face down on the floor. Extend your arms out in front of you with your thumbs pointing toward the ceiling. Take a deep breath in, and lift your head, arms and legs off the floor. Only lift your head as high as your shoulders and arms, and keep your feet together.

Hold the pose for five to 10 seconds.

A runner does a kneeling shoulder press as part of a core workout for runners

Kneeling Shoulder Press

A round of kneeling shoulder presses works your abs, shoulders and hip flexors in one exercise.

Stand tall with your left foot out in front of your right, and hold a small weight at your chest. Drop your right knee to the floor to get into a lunge position. When you reach the bottom of the lunge, press the weight up above your head and lower it back down to your chest, then stand back up.

Do six reps, then switch legs. Complete three sets.

A woman demonstrates a hamstring bridge exercise as part of a running core workout

Hamstring Bridges

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently pull your heel toward your body without sliding your feet closer to engage your hamstrings. As you feel your hamstrings tighten, lift your hips off the floor, hold for three seconds, and lower back to the floor.

To make the move easier, start the move with your feet farther away from your body. To increase the difficulty, move your feet in closer.

Do 10 reps.

A runner does a lateral walk with a resistance band to exercise her core muscles

Lateral Walk with Resistance Band

Miller says lateral walks target one of the most problematic muscles for runners: the gluteus medius, a major muscle that helps balance you on one leg as you run.

Stand tall with your feet about shoulder width apart and a small exercise band looped around your ankles. Keep your knees straight but not locked. Slowly step one foot out to the side to put resistance on the band, and then slowly lift your other foot and bring you feet back together.

Take 10 steps in one direction, and then 10 steps back, retracing your steps.

A runner does a single leg deadlift for a core workout

Single Leg Deadlifts

Stand up tall with your hips facing forward. Begin the move by lifting one foot off the ground and tipping forward by hinging your whole body at your hip. Lower your head and chest toward the floor as your foot comes up behind you, making sure your head, shoulder, hip and ankle stay in a straight line.

Do 10 reps on each leg.

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