Top 5 Core Exercises for Runners

June 21, 2016 Posted By: Barbara Mitchell

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As a runner, you know that core exercises are important. A stronger core helps to support the lower body as you take each step. It may prevent excessive hip rotation which can lead to overuse injuries of the knee, foot and ankle. A strong core may help you to power up a hill with greater ease and speed. These are just a few reasons why additional core exercises are key for runners. We all know it, yet many of us don’t do it. Why? It can take time out of running, it’s boring, it’s “rehab” like. Yes all true, but the benefits far outweigh the negatives, so I am here to pinpoint 5 of the top core exercises for runners.


1. Lateral leg lift (AKA hip abduction) with theraband- Strength of the outer hip muscles (gluteus medius) helps control hip rotation and stabilizes your pelvis with EACH step you take. Do the math. By strengthening this muscle, you may prevent a host of injuries from ITB syndrome, to plantarfascitis. How to perform: With a theraband or cable pulley attached to your ankle (and if theraband attach to non moveable object at the loose end), stand tall and contract your abs by pulling your belly button to your spine. Then take your leg out to the side, without tipping your body over! Usually the standing leg gets more work than the leg attached to the band. This is goodJ . Repeat all repetitions to fatigue vs. an exact number. Then switch legs. Aim for 3 sets to fatigue of either the standing or working leg.


2. Glute Bridges Your largest muscle of the body, Gluteus Maximus is also a very impostant muscle for running. Power of hip extension comes from the gluts. Your gluts should be stronger than your hamstrings in this movement. If they are then your chance of hamstring injuries goes way down. Specifically the ever slow to heal, high hamstring tendinopathy which plagues so many runners, particularly females. How to perform: Lying on your back, feet on the floor, or for more advanced movement, on a low bench, chair etc. Contract your lower abs and squeeze butt muscles. Lift hips up off the ground. If you lift beyond hip extension (ie too high) you will be getting into your back. You don’t want  this. Hold the lift for a few seconds then lower slowly. Repeat 3 sets to fatigue. To make this even more challenging, lay a weight on your hips or use a single leg.


3. Plank Yup good ol’ plank! Ab exercises in which your body is in neutral (neither flexed nor extended) are most functional and safest for your core. How to perform: for the basic plank, your feet are behind you with toes tucked under (ie. On your toes) and your elbows are directly under your shoulders. Lift up everything between your toes and your elbows. Keep your abs pulled in. Your body should have a slight “rounding” in the back. Too flat and you are in too much extension which stresses your back. Too flexed and you are not benefitting from the exercise. You will know when you are in the right form when you feel your abs kick in, without any back pain. Hold for 30-60 seconds. If you can hold for longer than that you need challenge. See #4!

plank on ball

4. Plank Progressions If you can hold a regular plank till the cows come home, you need to make it harder. There are an infinite number of ways to do so. Here are a few: Plank on a ball (elbows on a ball-make even harder by rolling ball in and out with your elbows), plank with a leg lift (lift one leg up and hold then switch legs), Plank on a BOSU ball (on hands with ball turned flat side up), plank in TRX (if you have access to the suspension straps, put your feet in the straps and hands on ground or on elbows and hold). These are just a few but there are many others. Use Google .


5. Obliques In running we mostly move in a forwards direction, however our bodies are not just moving in one plane at a time. We are constantly using many directions of body movement. For that reason, we need to strengthen the oblique muscles of our core. Think about putting your hands on your pockets….. that is one direction anatomically of your obliques. How to perform: one way of training obliques is to sit with knees best up and your body leaning about 45 degrees backwards.  Hold a weight in front of you with elbows bent. Rotate from side to side and touch the weight down beside each hip alternating directions. Keep your lower abs tight by pulling belly button to your spine through the whole movement. The weight should be heavy enough that your abs are tired after 15-30 reps. If not then up the weight. I find holding a kettlebell or medicine ball is most comfortable.

There you have my top 5 core exercises for runners. Give it about 2-3 months of 3-4 x a week training of your core and you will notice a difference in your running. You don’t need a gym membership or much extra time. It is just as important as the miles (or km’s) you run! Trust me on this one. And you just may save $$ in the physio, chiro, and/or massage office too.


See you on the roads…….

Elise Yanover

Elise has been a registered Physiotherapist since 1992. She has her own home based private practice seeing athletes and non athletes alike.  She was a competitive age group triathlete and runner for over 20 years who recently decided to hang up the racing flats and enjoy an active lifestyle which includes running, weight training, cycling, yoga and aerobic cross training. Elise balances her days with work, fitness, and family as a wife, and mother to a nearly teen daughter.

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