Core strength is vital to being a consistent, healthy runner. The muscles of your core are actively firing at all times to propel you forward so strengthening them is a worthwhile effort.
If you think your “core” is just your abs – you’re very wrong. But you are not alone. When most people think of training their core, they are often thinking about the front of their bodies.
If you notice the frequent complaints of back pain, that gives you an idea of how few people are truly training effectively. The book Foundation: Redefine Your Core, Conquer Back Pain, and Move with Confidence is a great guide that dives deep into this topic.
The core includes everything from your hips and glutes to your lower back and hamstrings. You can see a visual representation to get a better idea of all the muscles that we’re talking about. A good core routine will work all of these muscles to help you be a stronger runner.
Luckily, there is nothing complicated about strengthening the core, you don’t even need a gym. I’m a big fan of doing strength exercises from home with very little equipment.
Importance of Strengthening the Core
I can’t emphasize enough how critical the core is to you running form, mechanics, and ability to improve. Before you set out to do weighted barbell squats at the gym in hopes of strengthening your leg muscles to run faster hill sprints, consider the fundamentals.
The upper and lower body are linked by our core. This means that all the fun details that us runner love to explore, from cadence and foot strike to arm swings, are all an extension of the core. It is what allows us to maintain proper posture, stay balanced, and stabilize through the movements.
Because it is so important, I emphasize working on the core on its own, as well as in your warm-ups prior to running. This will help with both strength and injury prevention in the long run. You can read much more information on this and learn other routines in my free injury prevention series.
Standard Core Routine
I’ve been doing one core routine since my college days – simply called the Standard Core Routine – and it has 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 and keep your butt form sagging to the ground.
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.
From a table position, lift your left arm so it is 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 muscles activated. Hold for several seconds and switch sides.
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 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.
Tips for the Standard Core Routine
To ensure that you are getting the most out of this workout, I suggest the following:
- 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.
Myths about Training Your Core
I mentioned earlier that of the big misconceptions is that your core = abs. It’s not true, but this belief is probably what leads to myth #1 about training your core:
I can get six pack abs if I train my core.
I’m sorry to report that this one also isn’t true. While core strength is really important to your running, it is not going to yield the chiseled appearance of abs. Nutrition and genetics are the main factors here.
The second myth to dispel is that
increasing your core strength will make you a faster runner. Also not true, sadly. I discuss the details of this in my Q&A video, highlighting why you should still do your core exercises.
Standard Core Routine – PDF Download
While core training isn’t going to make you an Olympian, or even look like one, I hope you that you will still include this routine as a regular part of your weekly workouts! I know you will see benefits if you commit to doing it consistently and gradually challenging yourself with the exercises.
To make it easier for you, I’ve put together a PDF that includes photos and explanations for each one. You can download the free guide by signing up here.
You can post it on your fridge or simply refer to it from your phone. I hope you will find it useful!