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Basic core strengthening routine for runners

When it comes to strength training, most runners either ignore it completely or tend to focus on their legs. Your legs are obviously important to running and strong legs will help your speed and endurance, but perhaps even more important is your core strength. Your abdominal, gluteal (butt) and lower back muscles provide the stability required to continue running with efficient posture mile after mile. Furthermore, a strong core is the power plant that generates surges of speed and allows you to cruise up a hill or into a stiff wind. Without a strong core, the rest of your muscles are just compensating for your body’s instability rather than pushing your body forward.

The following is a basic core strengthening routine. All of the exercises demonstrated here require no implements other than your own body weight. Complete this routine on non-consecutive days three times per week. It will provide a good base core stability from which you can continue with this routine, or move up to the more advanced routines we’ll publish in the coming weeks.

The plank is a great exercise for strengthening the Transversus abdominus, the deepest of the major abdominal muscles. It provides thoracic and pelvic stability. Planks also strengthen the lower back. When performing a plank, it’s ideal to maintain a straight line from the shoulders, through the hips and knees all the way to the ankles as demonstrated in the video below. Start by holding the plank for 10 seconds, resting 30 seconds, and then holding the plank for 10 seconds again. As the weeks go on, work your way up to holding the plank for 2 minutes at a time. You can mix up a plank routine by shifting your weight forwards and back slightly on your toes, raising one leg or one arm, and trying the plank both with your elbows bent balancing on your forearms, and with your arms straight and your palms on the ground.


Side Plank
The side plank works the hips, the Transversus abdominus, the lower back, the glutes and the internal and external abdominal oblique muscles. As with the plank above, it is important to hold a straight line throughout your body. Don’t let your top hip sink down. Again, start with holding the side plank for 10 seconds, resting for 30 seconds, and then holding the side plank for 10 seconds. Repeat this process on the other side of your body. Work your way up to holding the side plank for 2 minutes as the weeks progress. To change the intensity of a side plank, you can start with your legs staggered – with the top foot in front of the bottom foot, work your way up to having your feet stacked on top of each other, and finally begin to raise the top leg in the air during your side plank. Don’t forget to work both sides evenly.


Bicycle crunch
The bicycle crunch was found to be the most effective abdominal exercise for the Rectus abdominis by a San Diego State University study. The Rectus abdominis is probably the abdominal muscle used the least by runners, but it is the muscle most responsible for the “6-pack” abs everyone so desires. Although the word bicycle appears in the name of this exercise, the leg motion is less rotational than it is straight in and out. When the leg is extended, a straight line should form from the ankle to the shoulder – don’t keep your legs in the air like a dead bug. Think about it as though you are wearing roller blades and the bottom wheel keeps skimming the floor as you extend your leg… while pushing through peanut butter. Start with 2 sets of 15 seconds and progress to 2 minutes.


The bridge exercise works your glutes and your hamstrings. Lie on your back and bend your knees, with your ankles under your knees and your toes pointed forwards. Lift your hips and back off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. Be careful not to let your knees sway outwards. Your shoulders will help hold your weight now, don’t put pressure on your neck. Hold this position for about 5 seconds and then lower yourself back to the floor. Start with two sets of 6 repetitions and work your way up to 12. Once you hit 12, you can make this exercise more difficult by trying the single leg variation shown in the video below.


The superman primarily works the lower back muscles. You’ll start lying face down with your arms and legs extended. Then, while keeping your arms and legs straight, raise your upper body and legs off the floor. You’ll look like superman flying through the sky. Hold that position for 5-10 seconds and repeat the process 6-12 times.


Iron Cross
The iron cross is a great for your hips. You’ll lie on your back with your legs straight out and your arms spread out to your sides. Kick your right foot to your left hand, trying to touch the two before returning to your original position. Next kick your left foot to your right hand in the same manner. Do 2 sets of 6-12 repetitions on each side.


The scorpion is the opposite of the iron cross. You’ll begin by lying prone with your arms outstretched at a 90 degree angle to your body and your feet trailing behind your body. Begin rotating your hips and bending your left knee in an attempt to touch your left foot to your right hand. Return to the starting position and try to touch your right foot to your left hand in the same manner. Do 2 sets of 6-12 repetitions on each side.


Working your abs alone will leave you with a weak back. Be sure to work all the muscles that make up your core group for strength and stability.

Written by

Brian Darrow is a running coach in St. Petersburg, FL who specializes in online coaching for beginners. Follow him at

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