Jason Fitzgerald is a 2:39 marathoner, USA Track & Field certified coach, and the founder of Strength Running where runners go to get faster and prevent injuries.
As runners, we love to lace up our shoes and head out the door to enjoy a few fun miles. The endorphin rush felt after a long run or interval session can’t be beat. But sometimes, injuries can keep us from doing what we love. What if there was a simple way to help your running by preventing overuse injuries — and even making you faster?
Good news is, the answer could be right at your core. By adding a series of core exercises to your running routine, you’ll be able to stay healthy by getting stronger, stabilizing your body while running, and improving your form when you get tired. Plus, late in a race when you start to get fatigued, core work helps you maintain an efficient running form, enabling you to hold a faster pace. After all, strength training is the perfect complement to endurance training.
This series of exercises is a comprehensive core workout I developed for runners of all levels. It includes six movements repeated two or three times for 30 seconds to one minute each. Watch the complete workout here, or check out the individual exercise GIFs below.
The Runner’s Core Workout
This circuit targets the entire core, including the hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, obliques and lower back. And it’s convenient, too – the Standard Core Routine requires no equipment so you can do it anywhere, whether you’re at home, at the gym, or in a hotel room when you’re on the road.
1. Modified Bicycle
Lie on your back and extend your right leg up in the air. Your thigh should be perpendicular to your torso and your shin parallel to the ground. (a) Next, lift your right leg two to three inches off the ground, hold for a few seconds, then switch legs. (b) 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, making sure your back neither presses down or lifts up from your hand.
2. Balance Plank
Start by lying on your stomach and prop your weight on your forearms and toes. (a) Keep a straight line from your head to your feet and hold this position for the entire exercise, making sure your abs, glutes, and lower back are engaged. (b) Simply hold it here, or if you’re up to the challenge, simultaneously lift the right leg and the left arm, hold for two to three seconds, and switch.
3. Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet flat on the ground. Next, lift your hips so there is a straight line from your shoulders to your knees. (a) Extend one leg straight out, hold for a few seconds, then place it back down on the ground and repeat on the other side. (b) Make sure your hips don’t dip and your butt doesn’t sag to the ground during the movement.
4. Side Plank Leg Lift
Lying on your right side, lift your body so your weight is propped up on your forearm and the side of your right foot (or, stagger both feet to modify). There should be a straight diagonal line from your head to your feet. (a) Hold steady, engaging the core muscles. Or, for an even greater challenge, complete 10 lateral leg raises, by slowly lifting your left leg to a 45-degree angle and lowering it back down to the start position. (b) Switch to the left side and repeat.
5. Modified Bird Dog
In a tabletop position on your hands and knees, lift your left arm so it’s parallel to the ground. (a) At the same time, lift your right leg back behind you so your thigh is parallel to the ground and your shin is perpendicular. Your knee should be bent at 90 degrees and your glute muscle activated. (b) Hold for several seconds and switch sides.
6. Supine Bridge Leg Lift
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. (a) Next, maintaining a solid core and not breaking at the waist, lift your right leg eight inches off the ground, hold for two to three seconds. (b) Repeat with the opposite leg.
As for all strength workouts, always monitor your form and make sure you’re maintaining good posture during each exercise. Once this bodyweight routine is comfortable, you can try integrating more challenging TRX and medicine ball exercises into your strength program.
After two to three months of consistent core strengthening, you’ll notice significant improvements to how you feel when you go running. And who knows, you might even be a little faster, too!