Why Runners Need To Train Their Core

Why Runners Need To Train Their Core

Running is a wonderful exercise that can help you lose weight, get fit, and improve your overall health. However, running is a high-impact form of exercise that can lead to chronic pain unless precautionary measures are undertaken.

Proper technique, strength training, diet, and following a sensible training program are some of the precautionary measures you can take to ensure your health and safety while running. Another item that you should add to that list is core training.

When you hear the word “core”, you are probably thinking of your abdominal muscles or the “abs”. You are only partially correct. The abdominal muscles only form part of your core.

Unfortunately, having a shiny “six-pack” that can grate parmesan cheese will not give you a core section that can endure a fast-paced run, a tough climb up a hill, and keep your back healthy.

According to a study conducted by Saucony, running exerts a force equal to 7 times a runner’s body weight on his/her foot. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, every stride will generate 1,050 pounds of force on your foot.

These forces will dissipate throughout your body. The impact will be felt on your calves, shins, thighs, hamstrings, glutes, hips, lower back, shoulders, and neck. Over time, these impact forces will cause wear and tear on your body. Symptoms include chronic pain on the lower back, hips, and shoulders.

Strengthening your core will help reduce the risk of experiencing pain and discomfort from running because it will stabilize and improve the functionality of the muscles supporting your spine and surrounding musculature.

What Is The Core?

The core section is composed of muscles that perform 2 types of functions: Stabilization and movement. We can categorize these muscles as follows:

  1. Stabilizers

• Transverse abdominis
• Internal obliques
• Pelvic floor muscles
• Transverspinalis
• Diaphragm
• Lumbar multifidus

  1. Movers

• Rectus abdominis
• Erector spinae
• Hamstrings
• Latissimus dorsi
• Hip abductors
• Hip adductors
• External obliques

Our bodies move in 3 planes of motion:

  1. Sagittal – Up and down movements; flexion and extension.

Sample movements:
• Running
• Biking
• Squat and Deadlift

  1. Frontal – Sideway movements; abduction and adduction.

Sample movements:
• Service motion in tennis
• Side or lateral kicks in martial arts
• Jumping attacks in Volleyball

  1. Transverse – Internal and external rotation; pronation and supination.

Sample movements:
• Swinging a baseball bat
• Lead straight punches and hooks in boxing
• The golf swing

The core muscles stabilize our bodies when we go through these 3 planes of motion. A strong core can effectively and efficiently produce and transfer force while performing a dynamic movement such as running.

In other words, a strong core will make you a faster and stronger runner while reducing the risk of incurring chronic pain issues on your back, hips, and shoulders.

Because the core section is involved in providing stability and movement, your training should always prioritize functionality – the muscle’s ability to perform its primary task or function.

The biggest mistake runners make when training their core is focusing only on isolating the muscles.

For example, runners would do countless sets of isolation exercises such as crunches, reverse crunches, or back extensions which focus only on the abdominal muscles – transverse abdominis, rectus abdominis, and oblique muscles.

The other muscles of the core section are forgotten.

Thus, if your core training program consists of hundreds of crunches, sit-ups, leg raises, side bends, and twists, you may end up getting a beach-worthy midsection but the time and effort you spent will not shave seconds off your best 5k time.

Worse, all those isolation exercises will not protect you from injury.

6 Best Core Exercises For Runners

The best core exercises for runners are movements that activate the most muscles in your core section.

These core exercises are valuable for runners because they help stabilize and strengthen your lower back and the supporting muscles. Likewise, they improve your body’s ability to produce forces that allow it to move efficiently through the 3 planes of motion.

In this article, we will only discuss the core exercises that you can do at home. Resistance-based core exercises which use weights and bands will be discussed in a future article.

Let’s start with a basic core exercise that you are probably familiar with.

  1. Plank

Image courtesy of the India Times https://www.indiatimes.com/health/healthyliving/7-surprising-benefits-of-doing-the-plank-exercise-everyday-324035.html

Core Muscles Worked: Abs, hips, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, and shoulders.

How to Do Planks: Assume the top position of the standard push up. Bring your elbows to the floor. The elbows must be in line with your shoulders while the hips must be in line with your upper back. Keep your legs straight and stay on your toes.

Recommended Workout: 2 sets of 30 seconds; rest 30 to 45 seconds between sets.

  1. Side Plank

Core Muscles Worked: Abs, obliques, glutes, lower back, hips, and shoulders

How to Do Side Planks: Lie on your side, bend your elbow and position it in line with your shoulder. Keep your legs straight. Contract your oblique muscles and raise your body to a point that your shoulders are in line with your hips.

Recommended Workout: 2 sets of 6 reps; hold each rep for at least 10 seconds. Rest 30 to 45 seconds between sets.

  1. Bird Dog

Image courtesy of Pop Sugar https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/How-Do-Bird-Dog-Exercise-Your-Back-40441615

Core Muscles Worked: Abs, hips, obliques, latissimus dorsi, lower back, glutes, hamstrings, shoulders, and hips.

How to Do Bird Dog: Lie down on all fours. Keep your arms straight and positioned under the shoulders. Maintain a neutral spine; hips slightly lower than your upper back. The knees are positioned under the hip. Simultaneously raise your left leg and right arm; keep your arm and leg straight. After 10 seconds, bring the left leg and right arm down and repeat the movement with your right leg and left arm.

Recommended Workout: 2 sets of 6 reps; hold each rep for at least 10 seconds. Rest 30 to 45 seconds between sets.

  1. Curl Up

Image courtesy of Future Fit Training https://www.futurefit.co.uk/personal-training/news-and-views/2013/09/04/low-back-pain-the-%E2%80%98big-three%E2%80%99/

Core Muscles Worked: Abs, obliques, hips, and lower back.

How to Do Curl Up: Lie on your back; bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Place one or both hands under your lower back. Tuck your chin in. Contract your upper abs – the rectus abdominis – to raise your upper body off the floor. The neck should maintain perfect alignment with your head.

Recommended Workout: 2 sets of 6 reps; hold each rep for at least 10 seconds. Rest 30 to 45 seconds between sets.

  1. Dead Bug

Image courtesy of Pop Sugar https://www.popsugar.com/fitness/photo-gallery/42388725/image/42388968/Dead-Bug

Core Muscles Worked: Abs, obliques, hip flexors, lower back, hamstrings, and glutes.

How to Do Dead Bug: Lie on your back; bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Raise your legs up until your shins are in line with your knees. Raise both arms. Simultaneously straighten your right arm and leg and lower them until they are in line with each other. Return to the starting position and repeat.

You can also perform Dead Bug by alternating the position of the arm and leg – lower the right arm and left leg simultaneously

Recommended Workout: 2 sets of 10 reps; Rest 30 to 45 seconds between sets.

  1. Glute Bridge

Image courtesy of Plank Pose https://plankpose.com/glute-bridge/

Core Muscles Worked: Glutes, hamstrings, lower back, and hips.

How to Do Glute Bridge: Lie on your back; bend your knees at a 90-degree angle. Flex the muscles of your glutes and hamstrings to raise your lower body off the floor.

Recommended Workout: 2 sets of 6 reps; hold each rep for at least 10 seconds. Rest 30 to 45 seconds between sets.


For best results, perform 3 of these core exercises every day. The Curl Up, Side Plank, and Bird Dog are the main exercises in the “McGill Big 3”, a core training program designed by Dr. Stuart McGill whose ground-breaking research on the treatment of lower back pain has helped hundreds of athletes recover.

You can perform the other core exercises – Plank, Dead Bug, and Glute Bridge on the other days.

As you get stronger in these core exercises, do not hesitate to increase the intensity or the overall workload.

For example, if 2 sets of 30-second planks are too easy for you, try to do 1 set x 60 seconds or 2 sets of 45 seconds. Keep challenging yourself by setting new limits.

As your core muscles get stronger, you will notice that you can run faster, cover longer distances, and conquer hilly terrain without experiencing discomfort or injury.

And let’s not forget to take moments to thoroughly unwind on occasion with your favorite bottle of wine. Wine is rich in healthy antioxidants that can fight off free radical damage which occurs during high intensity or long-duration exercises.

If you enjoyed this article, feel free to share it with your community. Also, check out our selection of fine California wines (www.wine4runners.com). You may want to gift a friend – or yourself – after a tremendous race event!

This Post Has 3 Comments

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