A stable core can greatly benefit your running. Building stability in your core helps to improve your running posture so you can navigate trails more easily and build muscle along the way — plus, core stability is a huge factor in injury prevention for runners. One review showed core weakness led to “less efficient movements, compensatory movement patterns, strain, overuse and injury.”
Core work doesn’t have to mean long hours in the gym, either: the best core work tends to be done with bodyweight, and you can get a full workout in just a few minutes wherever you are. The key to this training is that, unlike crunches, you’ll target your entire body by actively engaging the muscles. You need to focus on strengthening your core from the inside out. In a recent study on muscular balance, core stability and injury prevention for mid-to-long-distance runners, noted that internal work can help keep your core stable.
Check out these simple, easy-to-master moves and add them to your routine. Try a 10-minute core session first thing in the morning.
Try holding plank for a full song, and switch your position every 30–60 seconds. Alternate from high plank to side-plank on your right forearm, back to high plank and then to side-plank on your left forearm. This can be a total-body move, but make sure you’re concentrating on your core: When done correctly, it should feel the hardest on your stomach muscles, not your shoulders.
Also known as a single-leg deadlift, the Romanian deadlift challenges your core strength because it forces you to balance while moving forward with your weight entirely on one foot. Start by standing straight, with your core muscles actively engaged (not sucked in, but you should feel the muscles tensed up, like you would feel while holding a plank). Shift your weight to your left foot, and, keeping your hips square, slowly raise your right leg straight behind you while folding at the hips, creating a straight line from your head to your right toe in a T-shape. Keep your core muscles engaged to stay balanced as you slowly come back up. Your arms can be out to the sides or dropped toward the ground: If you add free weights for more challenge, arms should be dropped toward the ground. Repeat 10 times per side and focus on going up and down slowly.
This move is considered a fundamental core-stability and gluteal-strengthening exercise. If you’ve ever gone to a yoga class, you’ve likely ended up in the bridge pose: Lie on your back on the floor with your feet on the ground and knees bent. Using your core and glutes, lift your back off the floor, forming a bridge. Hold that for 30–60 seconds. Add more challenge by lifting one foot off the ground, straightening your leg for a few seconds, while holding your bridge straight and stable, then lowering and repeating with the other leg. Do that for 3 repetitions before lowering to the ground. Bonus: This position also relieves a lot of the tightness we get from sitting hunched over all day.
For runners, the best core work can be found in more dynamic movements, like a walking lunge. Simply start at one end of the room and lunge forward with one leg, then the other. Your front foot should be flat on the floor with the front knee bent at a 90-degree angle, while your back leg should be balanced on the ball of your foot with a bent knee. Come up, step through with the back leg and repeat the process. Cross the room back and forth for at least 1 minute. Add weights for more challenge.
The trick to this move is to step up and down with measured, smooth motions. Focus on keeping your legs lifting straight up with pelvis squared, versus rotating your hips to increase your range of motion. Rotating the hips cheats you out of the strength aspect of the movement. Do 15 on each side for a quick-core day, but add an extra two rounds when doing a full strength routine. Again, adding weights can make this move more challenging, but focus on being slow and steady first, making sure your core is balanced.
About the Author
Molly is an outdoor adventurer and professional nomad obsessed with all things running, nutrition, cycling and movement-related. When not outside, she’s writing about being outside, travel and athletic style on TheOutdoorEdit.com, or she’s interviewing world-class athletes and scientists for The Consummate Athlete Podcast. You can follow her adventures on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat at @mollyjhurford.