7 core exercises you should start doing now to improve your running
If you’re just getting into running, it’s often easy to forget about strength training and core exercises. Yet a strong core is essential for all runners. A strong core gives you better running form and the ability to run faster – while also preventing any nasty injuries – by improving your general strength, balance and body alignment. But that’s just the start of it.
Whether you’re training for an event or simply looking to run further for longer, the following core exercises will push you and help perfect your performance. There’s also the added bonus that core exercises don’t require any equipment or much time – so you can do them in the comfort of your home and whenever suits your schedule.
It’s a no brainer to start with the plank. The plank is a great core exercise because it works all the core muscles at once, while also strengthening the legs, glutes, arms, spine and shoulders. It’s basically a whole body workout in one exercise. Those strong core muscles will keep you balanced and help you run with strength and endurance.
To get the most out of your plank, you’ll need to focus on your form. Keep your hands aligned under your shoulders and pull your belly button up towards your spine. Squeeze your abs and your glutes to reap all the benefits of this glorious exercise. Don’t worry about holding it for too long – aim for 30 seconds to a minute and work up from there.
2. Plank Shoulder Taps
Plank shoulder taps are a variation on the plank that pushes you even harder. Like the plank, this core exercise pretty much works out your entire body, with a strong focus on the midsection. Runners benefit from this variation as it helps to reduce lower back pain, which can be a common drawback for runners. A strong lower back in connection with the core will help you to maintain balance and perfect your running form.
Simply get into your plank position, lift one hand and tap it to the opposite shoulder – and switch. Pull your stomach in extra tight as you tap to feel the burn and, importantly, try to get the rest of your body completely still.
Leg raises target the lower core muscles, which are often difficult to build but have specific benefits for runners. Tight, strong lower core muscles help strengthen the lower back, meaning that you maintain better running posture. Lower core muscles also help your internal organs; maintaining better bladder control and keeping your gut healthy. The longer you can run without needing a bathroom break, the better!
To perform your leg raises, simply lie on the ground with your legs flat and your arms by your side. Raise your legs until your body creates an L shape, and then bring back down without letting your legs touch the floor. You should feel a real burn in your lower abdominal muscles.
4. Windshield Wipers
Windshield wiper exercises are similar to leg raises, but they work the obliques and rectus abdominis muscles, which are at either side of your core. In running, everything is connected, and it’s important to focus on body alignment. Your obliques connect to your hips, which have a big impact on your running gait and create the energy for the swing of your leg, so this is a key exercise for keen runners.
Do your windshield wipers in a similar way to your raises. However, instead of keeping your legs straight, bend them slightly and twist them to either side, creating a semicircle motion. Aim to keep your lower back in contact with the floor as much as possible.
5. Glute bridge
Glute raises… What’s this doing in a list of core exercises?! Well, when done right, a glute bridge also works the transversus abdominis and multifidus muscles which enclose your entire midsection. And, if that wasn’t enough, glute bridges also work your lower back, giving you better posture and helping you to stay stable when running. Strong glutes in combination with a strong core and legs center your pelvis and keep everything aligned, helping you to run faster.
To do a glute bridge properly, lie on your back with your legs bent and your feet flat on the floor. Push your heels into the floor and tighten your glutes and abdominal muscles as you lift your hips upward.
6. Bicycle Crunch
The bicycle crunch is a great exercise that works the obliques and the hips, keeping your body aligned when running and helping your gait. A good hip extension means stronger knees and a better foot placement, helping you run faster and prevent those pesky knee injuries which are common among runners.
To do your bicycle crunches, lie on your back with your knees up at a right angle. Place your hands behind your head and touch your right elbow to your left knee, and switch. You should aim for a deep crunch which activates those core muscles.
7. Bird Dog
The bird dog is an exercise that works the core, hips and back muscles. With alternate movements, it’s great for working on balance and stability – two things that all runners need to perform to their best. This is a slow and steady low impact exercise that helps build strength and focus, making it great for those non-running days.
On all fours, reach out your right hand and kick your left leg back simultaneously. Focus on creating a straight line from your hand to foot, keeping the hips squared and the back flat. Switch and repeat for an effective core workout.