Your core is more than just your abdominal muscles. All of the muscles that make up the midsection — deep and superficial alike — comprise the core, from the hips on up to the top of the rib care. All of the musculature that supports the spine, ribs, pelvis, and internal organs are important parts of your core strength and stability (1).

image of female athlete doing forearm plank
Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy United

Your core muscles have two primary functions related to running: mobility and stability (2). Both of these are important for runners. In fact, core training has been shown to improve running economy — or the ability to run efficiently without overexertion (3).

Your muscles can resist movement in the spine, ribs, and pelvis. This function is needed to support your posture and help you to maintain a healthy spine. It is important for absorbing force on the body.

The other function of the core muscles is mobility, primarily of the spine.

The three planes of motion for the spine are the frontal plane, the side bends and the sagittal plane. The three planes of motion are relevant to running.

The muscles that support and move the front and back of the body are relevant as you run in a forward direction. The hip flexors bring the leg forward in hip flexors, while the gluteus maximus and hamstrings extend the hip as you push through each leg.

Your obliques and spine erectors are helping you with your stride.

As your foot hits the ground, your gluteus medius activates to provide lateral stability in the frontal plane. You may know or be a runner who has suffered knee or back pain caused by a weak gluteus medius. Strengthening this important core stabilizer can make you a stronger, more balanced runner.

As you run, your ribcage rotates slightly as you pump your arms. The obliques, multifidus, and spine rotators help the spine mobilize and also help control inefficient motion.

Even this oversimplification of the mobilizing and stabilizing muscles of the core shows their importance in the biomechanics of running. Strengthening the core muscles improves their endurance and maximizes the efficiency of the work you’re doing as you run (3).

How can you train your muscles to give you the strength, stability, and mobility you need to run? The core workout is designed for runners.


The plank exercise will improve your core stability as well as muscular strength and endurance, challenging you to keep your posture strong under fatigued conditions.

  1. You can do a more challenging plank by coming to your knees, toes, and elbows. If you choose the straight-leg version, keep a long line from the top of your head to your knees.
  2. Lift your abdominals and breathe.
  3. Break the time up into six, 15-second planks if necessary. Then you have to do three plank for 30-seconds each, two plank for 45 seconds, and finally a plank for 90 seconds.

Dead bug

Dead bug is another exercise that will improve your core stability.

  1. “Lie on your back with your legs crossed and your arms in the air. Hold a strong abdominal contraction. If it feels like you can’t hold this position without arching your back, tilt your body back slightly.”
  2. Slowly extend one arm and the other leg. If you want to do a more challenging exercise, keep the knee bent. inhale and exhale as you return to neutral.
  3. For 20 reps, alternate sides are used.

Bird dog

The bird dog is essentially the same exercise as dead bug, but upside down. It both stabilizes the core and strengthens the hip extensors and shoulder muscles for mobility.

  1. Come to your hands and knees in a neutral spine posture. Inhale as you extend one arm and the opposite leg. Try to make the work come from your shoulders, glutes, and abs, rather than the arm and leg.
  2. Lift the arm and leg on your next inhale to lower your limbs.
  3. For 20 reps, alternate sides are used.

Wood chops

Use a dumbbell, kettlebell, or even a resistance band to strengthen your core mobilizers with added weight during the wood chop exercise.

  1. Stand with your legs shoulder distance, holding a weight or band with both hands.
  2. Lift your arms out and off to one side, rotating through the torso, as you squat, as you inhale and exhale. Keep a strong posture and hold your abdominals tight.
  3. Control the descent and repeat. Do 10 reps on one side, then switch sides and do 20 reps in each direction.

Bicycle crunches

  1. Lie on your back with your legs off the ground, bent at 90 degrees. Keep your stomach pulled in by keeping your hands behind your head.
  2. Take a deep breath and stretch out one leg.
  3. As you exhale, turn toward the lifted knee. Turn toward the lifted leg when you switch legs. As you twist from the waist up, keep your pelvis still.
  4. Do 30 repetitions, starting with sets of 10 reps with rest in between, and progressing until you can do all 30 at once.

Side plank

The abdominals, back, hip, and shoulder muscles are stable with this final exercise.

  1. Lie on your side, with your elbow on the floor. Keeping your bottom knee down is easier said than done. Stand on your bottom foot for a greater challenge, or you can stack the feet to make it easier to stand upright.
  2. Hold for 30–60 seconds on each side, building strength by taking breaks and re-setting the plank until you can hold the full 60 seconds on each side.

One of the great things about this 10-minute workout is that since it emphasizes stability and endurance rather than strength or power, it can be done daily if desired. The workout is short and not intense enough to warrant an abundance of recovery time. That said, a 7-day per week commitment is not necessary.

As little as 3 days per week could be enough to improve your core strength, but shooting for 5 days will increase your strength more noticeably (4).

It is a good idea to balance stability work with mobility work in your core workout, even if you choose a different type of core workout. Running is a 3-dimensional activity that will help you with your body challenges.

Because running is so repetitive, the weaknesses in your routine will manifest at best with poor performance and at worst with injury. Giving yourself the gift of a strong, stable core with a 3-dimensional workout will improve your running performance and hopefully your enjoyment of the process (3, 5).

It is possible to make core work mandatory to stay consistent. It is easy to give yourself excuses and opt out if you have a vague idea of when you will do the work. Scheduling core work just as you do your training runs will bring consistency to this work that will bring you the results you want and need.

It seems like a good idea to do core work after a run, but will you follow through? Will you work or not? If so, schedule it in the morning.

Set your alarm 10 minutes early and “earn” your morning coffee. You can schedule core training as part of your bedtime routine if you find the endorphins and heat won’t leave you sleepless. You can even incorporate core work into your dynamic warmup for training runs.

Make sure you’re breathing. Obviously you need to breathe, but if you can do so with purpose as you work your core muscles, you’re making use of not only the target core muscles (such as abs or glutes), but also your intercostal muscles, diaphragm, and pelvic floor, increasing the stabilization effect of the exercise (6).

Engage these deeper muscles as you do your core work. Lifting from the pelvic floor can be done at the same time as the abdominal scoop or glute squeeze. Mindfully engaging your muscles during training will give you more bang for your buck, and your overall strength, endurance, and stability will benefit.

Good posture, alignment, and economy of movement are dependent on a strong core. Runners are not the only people who benefit from a strong core, but a stable core is a great asset to anyone who wants to run more efficiently.

A workout like the one above strengthens the core for mobility and stability in all three planes of movement, paving the way for improved performance and more enjoyment when running.