Nearly all experienced runners know that a strong core is a key element of running better, faster and with fewer injuries. The go-to routine of sit-ups, crunches and planks will help, but there’s much more to core strength in running.
How the core works in running
Our “core” doesn’t just include the rectus abdominis (the six pack muscles) that are worked by the previously mentioned exercises. There are also layers of muscle and connective tissue that aid or limit rotation of the torso as well as the gluteal (buttock) muscles that stabilise the hips and push us forward when running.
When we consider this rotational motion in particular, we can see how just flexing and extending the abdomen through crunches, only work a small part of our runner’s core.
What core work should runners do?
Rotation and anti-rotational movements should ideally be the base of your core work in order to make you run better. Most traditional core exercises can be performed unilaterally (single sided) to make them target these rotational muscles. Similarly, a large number of upper and lower body exercises can be executed with an offset stance, using balance equipment such as balance pads, stability disks or Bosu balls for the same reason.
My top 5 low equipment core exercises
Deadbugs, opposing sides – perform a deadbug as you would normally, the only change is using the opposite arm and leg to make the body fight the rotation it will want to do.
Woodchoppers – using a resistance band if you don’t have access to a cable machine, these are great for rotation. You can do this in a straight, offset, half kneeling or kneeling stance to keep it varied and emphasise different muscles.
Bicycle crunches – as long as these are performed more slowly than you’ve likely seen them demonstrated before, and with a bigger degree of rotation, you can get a big core hit all over from this.
Suitcase lunges – although this will work your legs too, with an upright posture and a dumbbell held on the opposite side, this will work the larger glute muscles, some of the smaller hip controlling muscles and obliques.
Planks – yes I may have mentioned them at the start, but with the right variations, planks are great for runners. Lift one heel at a time, transition from a plank to a press-up position, tap your shoulder with the opposite hand or reach back to touch your opposite shin/ankle. All of these movements engage the flexion/extension part of core strength as well as fighting or causing rotation.
If you’ve ever felt yourself swaying or having to try and stop flailing during a particularly fast effort or race, it’s worth changing up your core routine. Keep these movement patterns in mind when selecting your core strength exercises, and you’ll be stronger than ever for running.
Written by Kyle Brooks, Running Coach based in Norwich, Norfolk