core strengthening for runners

The Best Core Strengthening Exercises for Runners

You’re a runner, so you run. But what other exercise do you use to supplement your passion for the pavement? It may seem superfluous to add more work to your routine, but research shows us that it can benefit your performance. 


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Specifically, core and pelvic exercises to improve strength and stability are known to decrease run times, improve efficiency, and reduce injuries. This article will be your guide to the importance of strengthening for runners and the best core exercises to include in your practice.

What is the Core?

The common term “core” might lead you to imagine your abdominals and nothing more. However, the core is much more than this! Encompassing the abdominals, paraspinals, gluteal muscles, pelvic floor, and hip girdle, this group of muscles is the bedrock of body stabilization.

Benefits to Core Strengthening

The Best Core Strengthening Exercises for RunnersRunning is an endurance event and essentially, a single-leg activity! With every step, only one limb must support the weight of the entire body, maintain balance, and propel forward motion. 

This is where the importance of core strength comes in. A successful running habit requires an inherent amount of stability. It’s within the best interest of your sport and your body to improve it!

Increased Performance 

Implementing a consistent strengthening routine can provide a runner with many benefits, increased performance among them. Studies conclude that a graded strengthening program improves running endurance and performance without any negative effects on VO2 Max or blood lactate levels.

Improved Stability and Efficiency 

The theory proves true that improving core stability can cut down on excess motion created by weakness and poor form. Strength training programs for runners have been shown to improve running economy and core endurance. These athletes are better able to maintain spinal alignment over long-distance runs and avoid core burn-out with high-intensity exercise.

Injury Reduction

With the standard overuse injury rate of up to 79% among recreational runners, something needs to change! 

When tested in a Functional Movement Screen to assess balance, strength, and range of motion, runners generally score poorest among other athletes, especially in the plane of rotary stability. In this screen, female runners specifically demonstrate more difficulty in eliciting proper muscle activity. This finding reveals that runners are commonly lacking in high-level neuromuscular control.

Knee pain is the most common ailment among runners. Patellofemoral pain syndrome, an overuse injury that makes up 20% of running injuries, is highly associated with weakness in the hip abductor muscles.

Core and hip strengthening can correct and prevent symptoms related to overuse in runners.

FAQ About Core Strengthening in Runners

Does Core Strengthening Help with Back Pain in Runners?

Core Strengthening is one of the important pieces of the puzzle for running with low back pain. In addition to strengthening the hips, legs, and back, core strengthening helps control your posture with running and helps with overall shock absorption.

Does Core Strengthening Help with Other Joint Pain?

Strengthening the core seems to be helpful in most other joint issues. For example, strengthening the hip and core was slightly more effective than strengthening the knee for patellofemoral pain syndrome in runners. 

Can Core Strengthening Help with Degenerative Discs?

Core strengthening can help with most lumbar spine disc issues. The stronger the core the less repetitive pressure is placed on the discs during dynamic activities such as running.

If you are try to get back to running after a back injury we recommend starting a core strengthening program before increasing any mileage running.

How Often Should I Do Core Strengthening?

We recommend performing core strengthening exercises at least 2x per week but can be done as often as 4x per week. This also depends on other activities that are being performed and allowing adequate recovery for your body.

Is Running Bad for Herniated or Degenerative Discs?

Not at all. In fact, running has been shown to be protective for intervertebral discs. 

Researchers have found middle-aged long-distance runners had fewer age-related changes in the discs. This means that overall they had healthier and stronger discs than their non-running peers.

The Best Core Strengthening Exercises for Runners

Consider the following exercises in your strength training routine. Aim to complete 2-3 sessions per week to see improvements in 6-14 weeks.

Side Plank

  • Assume the side-lying position on the floor. Using your forearm or hand and your bottom foot as support, lift your hips. Keep your body in a straight line and avoid leaning or rotating to one side.
  • Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat for 5 iterations. 

Progress it: Lift the top leg during your static hold. Or, perform hip dips and lifts for a dynamic version.

Rotation Resistance

  • While standing, hold a weighted disc or ball in front of you. Keep your feet in contact with the ground and rotate your torso to the left, pause, then rotate your torso to the right.
  • Perform 10 reps and 3 sets. 

Progress it:

  • Make it oblique: raise the disc over your left shoulder, then lower it to the outside of your right knee. Keep your back flat throughout the movement.
  • Use a cable band
  • Add a walking lunge during the rotation

Swiss Ball Bridge

  • Lay on your back with your feet on a Swiss ball. Lift your hips so your body is in a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  • Hold for 20 seconds and repeat for 5 sets. 

Progress it: 

  • Single leg: while in the bridge position, raise one leg while maintaining your form.
  • Curls: from the bridge position, keep your hips raised but slowly extend your knees so your body is in a straight line from ankle to shoulders. Return to the bridge.

Swiss Ball Plank Progressions

  • Place a Swiss ball behind you and kneel on your hands and knees. Carefully place your feet on the ball and assume the plank position.
  • Hold for 30 seconds and repeat for 5 sets. 

Progress it: 

  • Single leg: While in the plank position, lift one leg behind you.
  • Pike: while in the plank, keep your knees straight, and lift your hips to bring your body into a pike position. Complete 12 reps and 3 sets.

In Review

Core strengthening is a beneficial habit for runners. It can improve performance and decrease injury, without negatively affecting cardiovascular endurance. Those are points that are easy to get on board with! Your abs, and your running, will thank you for it.


Works Referenced:

Blagrove RC, Howatson G, Hayes PR. Effects of strength training on the physiological determinants of middle- and long-distance running performance: a systematic review. Sports Medicine. 2017; 48: 1117-1149. 

Clark AW, Goedeke MK, Cunningham SR, Rockwell DE, Lehecka BJ, Manske RC, Smith BS. Effects of pelvic and core strength training on high school cross-country race times. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2017; 31(8): 2289-2295. 

Dierks  TA, Manal KT, Hamill J, Davis IS. Proximal and distal influences on hip and knee kinematic in runners with patellofemoral pain during a prolonged run. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2008; 38(8): 448-456. 

Fredericson M. Moore T. Muscular balance, core stability, and injury prevention for middle- and long-distance runners. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Clinics. 2005; 16(3): 669-689. 

Hung KC, Chung H, Chung-Wah Yu C, Lai H, Sun F. Effects of 8-week core training on core endurance and running economy. PLoS ONE. 2019; 14(3). 

McBeth JM, Earl-Boehm JE, Cobb SC, Huddleston WE. Hip muscle activity during 3 side-lying hip-strengthening exercises in distance runners. Journal of Athletic Training. 2012; 47(1): 15-23. 

Sago K, Mokha M. Does core strength training influence running kinetics, lower extremity stability, and 5000-m performance in runners? Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2009; 23(1): 133-140.

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is for educational purposes only. This is not a substitute for a medical appointment. Please refer to your physician before starting any exercise program.