If you polled a group of runners, odds are most would rather spend time trekking through trails than at the gym doing resistance training. "Many runners focus on their mileage first and foremost, and don't spend enough time building their strength," says Rebekah Mayer, National Run Program Manager for Life Time.
But that's a big mistake. Strength training — especially for your core muscles — is "essential for adults who have sedentary jobs, for women who've had babies or for anyone who experiences any kind of core weakness," Mayer says. In other words, the stronger your core, the more robust runner you'll be.
How a Weak Core Affects Your Running
"The core muscles form the powerhouse from which your stride extends," Mayer says. "A weak core can cause some muscles to become tight and overworked, while inhibiting important running muscles, including the glutes, which reduces the power in your stride and can be felt most clearly on uphill segments."
What's more, "an unstable core can also lead to more rotational movement during runs, wasting energy and increasing the risk of abdominal cramping or back pain," she says.
And in the worst-case scenario, weak core muscles may even increase your risk of injury. "For this reason, runners who have experienced a car accident, pregnancy or other strain to the abdominal area may be prone to lower back pain, hip or even hamstring injuries because of this muscular strength imbalance," Mayer says.
How Core Training Can Improve Your Performance
Training your core to be strong and balanced "supports good, upright posture and natural expansion of the diaphragm," Mayer says. And when your core muscles can fire efficiently, you can relax into your stride and let it flow smoothly, which is key for longer runs that require more endurance.
Adding core work to your weekly workout routine can also help you PR. That's because "the right balance of strength and mobility through the core keeps the pelvis in a neutral alignment, which allows full hip extension and a longer stride length when running fast," Mayer says.
Try This 15-Minute Core Workout For Runners
"While a strong core doesn't have to reflect in six-pack abs, functional strength is key," Mayer says. This 15-minute routine from Mayer is designed to strengthen and stabilize your core muscles, which will enhance your endurance and boost your speed gains on race day.
Do: each set of exercises back to back, then repeat once more before moving on to the next set.
1. Bear Crawl + Mountain Climbers
- Start on all fours with your legs hip-width apart, your palms flat on the floor directly under your shoulders and your back flat in a table top position.
- Lift your knees, so they're bent at a 90-degree angle and hovering an inch off the ground, and draw in your belly button, engaging your abdominal muscles.
- Maintain a flat back as you move one hand and the opposite foot forward staying low to the ground.
- Keep your neck in line with your spine, looking up with just your eyes as you move.
- Then, move the opposite hand and foot, and continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.
Twisting Mountain Climbers
- Start in a high plank with your hands beneath your shoulders and your body in a straight line from head to toes.
- Bring your right knee up toward your left elbow while twisting your obliques.
- Return your right foot to the floor, then twist and bring your left knee toward your right elbow.
- Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.
2. Plank Knee Taps + Single-Leg Glute Bridge
Plank Knee Taps
- Begin in a forearm plank, with your weight on your toes and forearms.
- While keeping your core engaged, slowly bend your right knee and tap it to the mat.
- Bring your right knee back to the starting position, then tap your left knee to the mat.
- Continue alternating sides for 60 seconds.
Single-Leg Glute Bridge
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground near your glutes.
- Straighten and extend your right leg so it makes a 45-degree angle with the floor.
- Engage your core and squeeze to activate your left glute as you lift your hips off the ground.
- Hold for 5 seconds.
- Repeat for 8 reps, then switch sides.
3. Single Arm Overhead Carry
- Grab a kettlebell with one hand. Lift the kettlebell overhead, allowing the bell to hang behind your hand while your palm faces the ceiling.
- Stand tall, engage your abdominals, drop your shoulders and pinch your shoulder blades back and together.
- Walk with small, smooth steps as you keep the kettlebell overhead.
- Continue for 60 seconds, then switch sides.