Core strength is a key component of good running form. The following 10 exercises focus primarily on counter-rotation, which will allow you to move naturally while staying in control of your trunk as you twist your spine with each step. This will help you run more efficiently and avoid injuries so you can get the most out of every run.
The best core exercises for runners
As physiotherapist Lindsay Scott explained to us in this article, running isn’t solely a forward motion. When you take a step and your left knee drives forward, your right arm also drives forward, and runners need to have a strong core to create a counter-rotation. This twisting motion is necessary for good running form, but runners need to be able to control that motion.
The bird dog targets your abs, lower back, glutes and thighs, while also improving your arm-leg coordination. Since it is lower-intensity, it’s a great exercise to include in a warm-up before your core workout to get all of your core muscles firing without creating too much fatigue. Make sure when you’re doing this exercise that you keep your pelvis stable and focus on drawing your belly button inwards as you breathe through each motion.
Anti-rotation band holds
This is a great option for beginners (or to use in a warm-up) to get used to what it feels like to resist rotation and build up strength in the stabilizer muscles of your core and shoulders. Make sure you choose a sturdy object that you can loop your band around as an anchor, keep your feet hip-width apart and your spine straight. Extend your arms out straight, and hold for 30 seconds before repeating on the other side.
Use a thicker band (compared to the band you used for the holds) to perform this movement, or, to make it even more challenging, use the cable machine at the gym. The easiest way to perform this movement is standing on both knees, but you can progress it by moving to one knee, then to your feet, then standing with one foot in front of the other.
Single-arm farmer’s carry with a knee drive
This is a great move for practicing the motion of running while engaging your core. The goal here is to walk slowly across the room with something heavy in one hand (like a dumbbell, jug of water, or whatever you have at your disposal), while keeping your spine straight and your torso upright, resisting the temptation to let your body fall to one side. Take 10-20 steps with the weight in one hand, then 10-20 with the weight in the other hand.
Thread the needle plank with a resistance band
Attach a light-to-medium band to a sturdy anchor and get in the plank position. Reach under your body to grab the band with the opposite hand and pull the band out to the side until your arm is straight, keeping you core engaged and resisting the urge to let your hips move or drop. Do 10 reps on one side, then switch and do 10 on the other.
This exercise works on your core and posture in an unstable position that aligns with your body’s position while you’re running. The goal is to keep your core stable as you circle the weight around your head, avoiding fall to one side or the other. Do 10 reps circling your head clockwise, then 10 reps in the opposite direction.
Chop anti-rotation cable
This exercise challenges your core and your hip stabilizers while aligning with the position your body is in when you’re running. If you don’t have a cable machine, you can also do this exercise with a band.
Single-leg Romanian deadlift
Not only does this exercise challenge your core, but it also strengthens your glutes, hamstrings and lower back, areas in which many runners are weak.
This is a great exercise to challenge your obliques and your glute meds (the muscles in the sides of your butt), which can help prevent running injuries like runner’s knee. Perform 10-12 repetitions on one side, then switch to the other.
Like the lunge, this is a great exercise to teach your core to stabilize your body while you’re in motion. It also builds leg and glute strength, making it an excellent two-for-one move for busy runners.