Core Exercises for Runners

Core Exercises for Runners

With summer fast approaching and the weather starting to get nicer, people are going to be heading outside to start running more in the fresh air. Some will run just for exercise for fun, or for training for a 5k, triathlon, marathon, challenge course, etc. But no matter your distance and skill level of running, keeping a your body strong will also be important.

By keeping the muscles of your body strong it can help with the efficiency of running which should make the runs start to feel easier over the course of time. The first part of the body we will focus on is the core.

Runner Core Exercises - Dead Bug 1 Runner Core Exercises - Dead Bug 1

Core Exercises for Runners: The Dead Bug

The first in the series of core exercises we will cover is the dead bug. The first level of the dead bug can help teach us about hip control. When we run, the hips/pelvis should stay pretty level while we are extending one leg. The level one dead bug helps lay the foundation for this.

  1. To do the level one dead bug, you will lie on your back with your arms extended to the ceiling and your hips, knees and ankles make 90° angles.
  2. Keeping the arms stationary, you will extend one leg straight down to the floor trying to get your calf to touch the ground just before your shoe.
  3. Your low back during the entire exercise should remain in contact with the ground. You do not need to try to press the back through the floor. It should be just a constant pressure.

Runner Core Exercises - Leg Lowering 2   Runner Core Exercises - Leg Lowering 1

Core Exercises for Runners: Leg Lowering

Leg lowering is the next exercise and can also teach us a lot about hip/pelvis control. There are a couple of different variations on this exercise. Again we will introduce an easier version. If you have any questions, ask any one of the trainers at Elite for assistance on how to progress the exercise.

  1. Start by grabbing a resistance or jump stretch band and make sure it is an appropriate strength level. Too much tension from the band can steal from the effectiveness of the exercise.
  2. Wrap the band around the ball of your foot and lie flat on your back. Similar to the dead bug you want there to be pressure on the floor from the low back and you want that pressure to be constant during the entire exercise.
  3. Each hand will hold either a handle or part of the band.
  4. The leg that has the band wrapped around, you will extend up toward the ceiling.
  5. The heel will try to push to the ceiling and you will pull the toes down by pulling band towards the floor. Some people will begin to feel a very strong stretch through the hamstrings at this point.
  6. You are going to keep the opposite leg as straight as possible and begin to slowly raise the leg off the ground. The goal is the again to try and get real long by pushing through the heel and bringing the ‘toes toward the nose.’
  7. Once you raise the leg as high as it can go while remaining straight, reverse the motion and do it again to get the calf to touch just a brief second before hand.

Runner Core Exercises - Bird Dog 1 Runner Core Exercises - Bird Dog 2

Runner Core Exercises - Bird Dog 3

Core Exercises for Runners: Bird Dogs

The third exercise is bird dogs. The bird dog is the cousin to the dead bug, a slightly harder version but again the goal is to teach hip/pelvic control while the legs are moving.

Level 1 Bird Dog

  1. Start in tabletop position. This is hands directly beneath shoulders and knees directly beneath hips and the toes dug into the ground.
  2. Level one for the bird dog just involves the legs moving. So, from your tabletop position you are going to drive back through the heel trying to get as long through our leg as possible with ‘toes towards the nose.’
  3. The goal is to imagine a steaming hot cup of coffee on your pelvis and that none would spill out.
  4. You can, also, use a foam roller and try to prevent it from rolling off. This is where most people miss the secret to this exercise; they lose control of the pelvis.

Level 2 Bird Dog

  1. Level two of the bird dog begins to involve the arms. This version is important because it begins to involve the core in a similar fashion as when we run.
  2. Start in the same table top position.
  3. You will still extend through one leg, pushing back through the heel with the toes towards the nose.
  4. Simultaneously you are going to reach the opposite arm forward reaching through the fingertips and keeping shoulders in place.
  5. So here you are looking for the pelvis to remain still while the leg reaches back, but you need to see good body control as the opposite arm reaches forward.

Runner Core Exercises - Plank Variation

Core Exercises for Runners: Plank Variations

The fourth exercise is plank variations. Now there are more variations of planks than there are hairs on your head. The first version is your standard plank.

  1. Lie facedown, your elbows go directly under your shoulder and hands go directly in front of elbow. It’s better to use a straight arm position as that allows you to get into some different movement options going forward.
  2. Now drive your elbows and toes into the ground and raise your body off the ground keeping your body as straight as possible.
  3. Hint: a lot of people allow their pelvis to tilt forward at the top of the plank allowing the low back to excessively sway, taking away the benefit of a plank and possibly leading to some low back issues.

Runner Core Exercises - Glute Bridge 1 Runner Core Exercises - Glute Bridge 2

Core Exercises for Runners: Glute Bridge

The first four exercises listed above all deal with the front side of the core. This last core exercise for runners will deal with your backside. Strong glutes will not only help give you a stronger stride, they will help protect your low back, as well as helping us look good as we are running past our competition.

  1. To perform a basic glute bridge you are going to lay on your back as if you were about to perform a sit-up.
  2. Bring your hands out to the side at about a 45° angle and place the palms down.
  3. Now tilt your pelvis backwards and apply a little bit of pressure on the floor with your low back.
  4. Next drive your heels into the floor and raise your toes up towards the shins.
  5. Now squeeze your glutes as hard as you can and raise your hips towards the ceiling.
  6. Hold this position for one second and lower the hips back to the floor. Make sure there is still a little bit of pressure on the ground when the back returns to the floor and repeat for desired reps.

Give these exercises a try by incorporating them into your workouts either as a warm-up before your run or as part of your strength training routine.

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Jason Liegl Certified Personal Trainer at Elite Sports Club - Mequon

Written by Jason Liegl, Certified Personal Trainer & AMP Program Director at Elite Sports Club – Mequon.

Jason re-joined Elite Sports Club-Mequon in 2008. He holds a BS in Fitness Management from UW-Parkside. Jason is a certified personal trainer through ACE. He is also certified by Titleist Performance Institute as a level 1 Golf Fitness Instructor, Functional Movement Specialist level 1, Functional Movement Systems level 1, Kettlebell Athletics level 1, and Precision Nutrition level 1 nutrition coach. Jason has experience in training athletes from almost every sport. His belief is that with a solid foundation and hard work, any athlete can get better!



This information is not intended to treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease. All material in this article is provided for educational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise, or other health program.

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