The Standard Core Routine – Video Demonstration

by Jason Fitzgerald

Core strength is vital to being a consistent, healthy runner. I’ve covered this in great detail here, here, and here.

If you think your “core” is just your abs – you’re very wrong. It includes everything from your hips and glutes to your lower back and hamstrings. A good core routine will work all of these muscles to help you be a stronger runner.

I’ve been doing one core routine since my college days – simply called the Standard Core Routine - and it’s become a staple of my strength program. The periods where I’ve done three sets of this routine for 1 minute per exercise, three times a week, I’ve stayed healthy. I always seem to get hurt when I get lazy and stop doing it consistently.

A more detailed version of this routine – in high quality video – is included in Injury Prevention for Runners.

The Standard Core Routine consists of six exercises performed in a row with no rest in between – just transition right into the next movement. Each exercise is done for 45 seconds or a full minute depending on your strength and ability level.

  1. Modified Bicycle: lie on your back and hold one leg up in the air.  Your thigh should be perpendicular to your body and your shin parallel to the ground.  Hold your other leg 2-3 inches off the ground.  Hold for several seconds and switch legs.  Make sure your lower back is in a neutral position during the entire exercise. You can put one hand in the small of your back to gauge this: make sure your back neither presses down or lifts up from your hand.
  2. Plank: lie on your stomach and prop your weight on your forearms and toes.  Keep a straight line from your head to your feet and hold this position for the entire exercise.
  3. Bridge: lie on your back with your feet flat on the ground.  Lift your hips so there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees.  Extend one leg straight out, hold for several seconds, then put it back down on the ground and repeat.  Make sure your hips don’t dip or your butt sags to the ground.
  4. Side Plank: on your side, lift your body so your weight is on one forearms and the side of one foot.  There should be a straight diagonal line from your head to your feet.  I usually do 10 lateral leg raises during this exercise as an advanced form of the exercise.
  5. Modified Bird Dog: in a table position, lift your left arm so it’s parallel to the ground.  At the same time, lift your right leg so your thigh is parallel to the ground and your shin is perpendicular.  Your knee should be bent at 90 degrees and your glute muscle activated.  Hold for several seconds and switch sides.
  6. Supine Leg Lift: lie on your back with your weight on your elbows and heels, lift your hips and keep a straight line from your toes to your shoulders.  Lift one leg about 8 inches off the ground, hold for several seconds, and repeat with the opposite leg.

This routine can be done anywhere since there’s no equipment needed (besides your running watch) and you only need a very limited amount of space. I’ve found that it’s perfect for hotel rooms when you’re traveling and the only available space is between two beds in your room.

Here are a few tips to get you started with the Standard Core Routine:

  • Don’t rest in between each exercise – transition to the next one immediately.
  • Use the split function on your digital watch to time each exercise.
  • Switch off doing right and left side planks during your first two sets. During the third set of exercises, you can either skip side planks all together, or add an extra exercise to make sure you do each side.
  • Start with two sets of 45 seconds per exercise, with 1-2 minutes of recovery in between sets.
  • After 2-3 weeks, increase your time on each exercise to a full minute. After another 2-3 weeks, increase to 3 sets.
  • Always monitor your form and make sure you’re holding the proper posture. You’re getting less benefit if your form suffers.

This routine is a fantastic general strength routine and is perfect for core strength maintenance or to introduce beginners to a well-rounded core routine. You can do it after you run 2-4 times per week, but try to incorporate other types of routines into your strength program as well – like the ITB Rehab Routine.

This routine was taken from the Sports Medicine Institute.

If you always forget these exercises, join the SR Private List below and get a custom-made illustration of the entire routine (free).

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{ 26 comments }

Rob F

I have been using this routine along with the ITB Rehab routine for a few months now and have really noticed a difference. My core feels stronger when I run and my form has improved as my core has strengthened. I feel lighter and more efficient while running which has to be a good thing.

Jason

So…you’re telling us it works? :) Thanks Rob, it made a huge difference in my running and glad it has for you too.

Mark P

Awesome. Jason did a great routine here, so it’s no wonder why you;re doing better.

It’s great that the author actually uses functional core exercises, as opposed to the stereotypical “crunches” that are supposed to “give you 6-pack abs”.

My belief is that the core is designed to transmit force, to produce it. We should keep core muscles tight isometrically while our shoulders, arms, hips, knees, etc. produce the force in relevant movements (e.g., deadlift, squat, overhead press).

I actually did an article series on this myself at http://www.brainbodybelly.com/2013/06/24/the-best-core-exercise/

However, this post has hit the nail on the head.

Kris

Perfect timing. I’ve done several of these exercises individually as rehab from an old disk injury and they’ve helped me avoid any serious setbacks the last couple of years. But lately my back has not been holding up (mostly because my core work has been less consistent, I’ll admit), so this looks like a nice routine for me to work with.

Jason

Consistency is key! Do this 3 times a week and you’ll probably feel better than ever. Thanks for commenting Kris.

Angie

Looks like stuff I need to do! The last exercise killed me – whatever muscles those are I am weak there! Recently have suffered lots of injuries – don’t cross train, only run, but know I need to add core work. Question: you say 2 sets of each exercise. Do I do the whole routine twice (1 set of each exercise) or two sets of each exercise and only go through routine 1x?

Jason

Hey Angie, I’m not surprised that the last exercise is hard for you. A lot of runners are weak in the posterior chain (back, hamstrings, glutes, etc). Go through the entire six exercises, take 1-2 minutes rest, and the repeat. Do it like a circuit. Enjoy!

Greg Strosaker

Thanks for posting, I never understood the supine leg lift but now I’ll add it to the routine. I honestly don’t feel much doing the bird dogs so I’ve usually skipped those, but I add a locust pose as I feel it helps with the glutes and lower back. I do love the leg-out on the bridges, a nice twist on a classic exercise, complements standard and abductor/adductor bridges nicely. The lateral leg raises during the side planks are a nice addition too – I honestly think side planks are one of the best exercises out there for runners, especially those who are bow-legged like me (helps reduce hip twist when running).

Jason

The key to the bird dogs is to contract your glutes, then it’s a great exercise. I’m a little bow legged myself and the side planks are great. The key is variety so mix it up and keep trying new variations of exercises. Hope these help Greg.

Alex

Increased efficiency and staving off the aches and pains that plague most runners is great. But I can’t lie, how I pull off the winter tights and warm weather split shorts is a motivating factor. Being fast is ideal, but failing that, I want to at least look fast. (Shallow, yes.)

Jason

Nothing wrong with just looking fast :)

Pete

Do you repeat the side plank on each side?

Jason

Good question Pete – I’m going to update the post to answer this question. Yes, I do a left side plank during the first set and a right side plank during the second set. If I’m doing 3 sets, I’ll include another side plank after the supine leg raises (so 7 exercises total during the 3rd set).

shane

would doing this 3 times a week be too much for a 14year old

Jason

Shane – first I’d recommend that you talk to your coach about any core / strength exercises you’re doing. But in broad terms, body weight exercises like this routine can be done 3 times a week for a 14 year old provided your form is good. Again, talk to your coach.

Brian

Done this routine tonight and it lets me see how weak my core is and why I probably suffer from low back, hip and ITB problems. 45 minutes was impossible for the plank, side plank and supine leg lift. Will stick with it hoping to see the aches and pains disappear.

Jason Fitzgerald

Yeah, 45 minutes sounds tough! You should have done seconds :)

Brian

oops, seconds it was.

Jay

The SMI document says to take a 15 second break between exercises? May I ask why you’ve suggested transitioning immediately? Also, would 3 days a week be enough or should we be looking to increase that?

Jason Fitzgerald

Hi Jay, the simple answer is that it doesn’t matter much. The transition itself will take you about 5 seconds, but you could wait 10 more seconds. Ultimately, I don’t think that long of a rest is necessary because runners don’t need it (the exercises aren’t THAT challenging) and it makes the routine take longer.

Allison

You’re definitely right when you say the supine leg lifts are hard for runners…as soon as I lift a leg, my butt drops right to the ground! That’s obviously an area I need to work on! Is there a progression for the supine leg lift? Perhaps I should just start with holding the position and working on lifting my legs after I become stronger? This is a great routine! I can do everything else…but those supines are killer!

adrian

So with the side planks – one side per circuit?

Jason Fitzgerald

This is answered in the article.

adrian

Sorry – obviously not a reader :(

Tim Huthsteiner

Hi Jason, thank you so much for this article! I started training for my first marathon 5 months ago and have 2 months until the race. From the sounds of it, I’m not the only one who’s neglected core training. Up until now my entire routine has been nothing but running. I’ve been having a persistent pain inside my left hip that I only seem to notice after I’m done running. Hopefully these routines help alleviate that problem.

Here’s my question. I’m having a lot of difficulty with planks, especially side planks. I’m lucky if I can hold a side plank for 15-20 seconds. Is there something I can do that is similar but slightly easier? My core is so weak I think I need to work up to the planks.

Thanks!
Tim

Jason Fitzgerald

Besides doing it for less time, start on your knees instead of your toes/edge of your foot. Good luck!

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