Coaching

12 Solid Core Exercises for Better Runs

IYKYK: A strong torso makes you more durable and powers your runs, helping you go faster, longer. Want one? Try these moves.

Last updated: May 17, 2021

When you think of running muscles, all the biggies in your lower body probably come to mind: glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves. But your core—which, BTW, goes way beyond a "six-pack"—is actually one of the most important muscle groups for runners.

"Think of the core as all the muscles that stabilise your torso and hips", says certified strength and conditioning coach Janet Hamilton, the owner of the Atlanta-based coaching company Running Strong. Along with the rectus abdominis—a.k.a. that six-pack (and yes, we all have one, even if you can't see it)—your core includes the inner and outer obliques, which help you rotate from side to side; the transverse abdominis, the deep muscles that wrap around your abdomen like a corset, drawing your belly button in; the erector spinae, which run along your spine; the multifidus, the deep muscles in your lower back; your glutes and your pelvic floor.

Strengthening all of these muscles can improve your posture and stability, better your form, and help you to become a fitter, faster, more efficient runner. In fact, consistent core strength training was shown to increase speed in a study published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Another study published in PLOS One found it can improve your endurance and running economy (how efficiently you run on the energy you have).

"Your core is what transmits force through your legs in the launch phase and absorbs it in the landing phase".

Janet Hamilton
Owner of Running Strong

To understand how you can get so much from a stronger trunk (that's just another word for your core), take a second to think about what your body's really doing when you're running. It's essentially performing a balancing act from left to right, and your abs and back muscles have to clock in to keep you upright and stable. "You launch off one foot, fly through the air and land on the other foot", says Hamilton. Your core is what transmits force through your legs in the launch phase and absorbs it in the landing phase, she explains.

To do both of those things, your core muscles must be strong and pliable, otherwise "you're not able to generate or absorb force well, and you set yourself up for poor performance and possible injuries", says Hamilton. If you're running with a weak core, you're likely to experience wobbly hips, a sore back, knee pain and/or feet that start to drag, she says. No thank you.

Need a visual? Picture a runner at the beginning of a long run versus the end. Chances are, their form fell apart in the final miles—maybe their torso is leaning too far forwards or backwards, or their feet are a bit floppy, says Chris Bennett (aka Coach Bennett), senior director of global running at Nike. A solid core can help prevent form breakdown and keep you running efficiently even when you're getting tired, he says. It's a pretty simple concept: "The stronger you are, the more resistant you are to fatigue", adds Hamilton.

Thankfully, core exercises are super simple to work into your training. Many of them can be done anywhere, without equipment (yay for bodyweight!). The key is working hard and long enough to challenge your muscles without losing good form, says Hamilton, which is easier on days that don't include a hard run.

Try these moves, which target your core from multiple angles, from Hamilton and Coach Bennett three times a week. Make them a dedicated core routine, or tack a few on to your usual strength workout of choice. Hamilton's tip: Instead of trying to do a specific number of sets and reps or hold a position for a certain amount of time, focus on doing each exercise until you fatigue the muscles you're targeting.

How to tell you're there? You can't do another rep with good form. That may mean you tremble through 5 reps for some moves (looking at you, V-up) and 20 for others. The point, says Hamilton, is that incorporating these movements into your routine is challenging, not overwhelming. (The former can motivate you to do more next time; the latter might discourage you from doing another core move ever again.) And be sure to switch up your moves from time to time. It'll make core work a lot less boring, says Coach Bennett.

1. Bicycle Crunch

Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, obliques

Lie face-up with your arms bent, elbows out to the sides and fingertips resting lightly behind your ears. Raise your bent legs until your knees are over your hips, feet flexed, then curl your shoulders off the floor, to start. Rotate your torso to the left, bringing your right elbow to your left knee as you straighten your right leg so it's hovering a few inches off the floor. Return to the start, then repeat on the other side. That's 1 rep. Continue alternating sides.

2. Plank

Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper back, chest, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, glutes, quads, calves

Hold the top of a push-up, with your shoulders stacked over your wrists; your back flat (no sagging or hiking up your hips); and your abs, thighs and glutes engaged. Gaze a few inches in front of your hands. (For a less challenging position, drop to your forearms, with your shoulders stacked over your elbows.) Hold it for as long as you can. That's 1 rep. Repeat.

3. Single-Leg Glute Bridge

Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, obliques, glutes, hamstrings

Lie face-up with your legs bent, feet hip-width apart and flat, and your arms extended by your sides so your fingertips graze your heels. Extend your left leg so your heel is lifted a few centimetres off the floor, foot flexed, to start. Press through your right heel and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips until your knees, hips and shoulders form a straight line. Pause, then slowly lower to return to the start. That's 1 rep. Repeat. Then switch sides and repeat.

4. Alternating Dead Bug

Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, lower back

Lie face-up with your arms extended over your shoulders; raise your bent legs until your knees are over your hips, feet flexed, to start. Brace your core and press your lower back into the floor as you extend your straight left arm back and your straight right leg forwards until both hover above the floor. Return to the start. Switch sides and repeat. That's 1 rep. Continue alternating sides

5. Plank Step

Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper back, chest, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, glutes, outer and inner thighs, quads, calves

Start in a plank position. Step your left foot to the left, your right foot to the right, your left foot back to centre, then your right foot back to centre. That's 1 rep. Repeat.

6. Side Plank

Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper back, obliques, glutes

Sit on your left hip, with your left hand flat on the floor and perpendicular to your body and your straight legs stacked, feet flexed. Push into your left hand, lifting your hips and extending your right arm towards the ceiling. If you can, lift your right leg high into the air. If you need some support, bend your left leg and place your knee on the floor. (For a less challenging position, drop to your left forearm.) Hold it for as long as you can. That's 1 rep. Switch sides and repeat.

7. V-Up

Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, lower back, inner thighs

Lie face-up with your legs extended and arms straight over your head, biceps grazing your ears. Brace your abs and press your lower back into the floor, then point your toes and squeeze your glutes as you simultaneously raise your legs and shoulders off the floor (so that just your lower back and hips stay grounded) until your body forms a V position. Hold it for as long as you can. That's 1 rep. Repeat.

8. Reverse Crunch

Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques

Lie face-up with your palms facing down and your legs bent, feet flat. Lift your feet until they hover above the floor, to start. Using your abs, curl your knees towards your chest until your hips lift off the floor. Pause, then slowly lower to return to the start. That's 1 rep. Repeat.

9. Hollow Hold

Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, lower back, inner thighs

Lie face-up with your legs extended and arms straight over your head, biceps grazing your ears. Brace your abs and press your lower back into the floor, then point your toes and squeeze your glutes as you simultaneously raise your legs and shoulders a few inches off the floor (so that just your lower back and hips stay grounded). Hold it for as long as you can. That's 1 rep. Repeat.

10. Windshield Wipers

Muscles worked: Rectus abdominis, obliques, lower back, quads

Lie face-up with your arms out to the sides in a T shape, pushing your shoulders, spine and arms into the floor. Raise bent legs until your knees are over your hips, feet flexed, to start. Keeping your spine and arms pressing into the floor and a 90-degree bend in your legs, lower your legs slowly and with control as far as you can to the left. Engage your abs to return to the start, then repeat on the other side. That's 1 rep. Continue alternating sides.

11. Mountain Climbers

Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper and lower back, chest, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, glutes, quads, calves

Start in a plank position. Keeping your core engaged, pull your left knee towards your chest, then simultaneously push your left leg back to plank and pull your right knee towards your chest. That's 1 rep. Continue alternating sides, moving slowly.

12. Hip Dips

Muscles worked: Shoulders, upper and lower back, chest, rectus abdominis, transverse abdominis, obliques, glutes, outer and inner thighs, quads, calves

Start in a plank position. Brace your core and squeeze your glutes as you drop your left hip to the floor. Return to the start, then repeat on the other side. That's 1 rep. Continue alternating sides, moving slowly.

Words: Ashley Mateo
Illustration: Kezia Gabriella

12 Core-Strengthening Exercises for Runners

Take It Further

For more expert-backed guidance on movement, as well as mindset, nutrition, recovery and sleep, check out the Nike Training Club App.

Take It Further

For more expert-backed guidance on recovery, as well as mindset, movement, nutrition and sleep, check out the Nike Training Club App.

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