The 7+1 Best Do-Anywhere Core Exercises for Runners

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If you want to be a good runner, get out there and run. But if you want to be a great runner, adding in some core work to your routine is essential. When you run, whether you realize it or not, your body is constantly working to stabilize your movements and work as efficiently as possible. The muscles in your core—your abs, obliques, back, and pelvis—function to support and stabilize you as you run. Strengthening your core helps with stability, balance, control, and overall running form. This leads to being a more efficient (read: fast) and injury-free athlete.

Before we begin, take a moment to review the golden rule of core workouts:

The Golden Rule of Core Workouts: Proper form is key

  • Engage your core. Think of drawing in your navel and holding your muscles tight.
  • Make straight lines with your spine.
  • Remember to continue to breathe normally throughout each exercise!
  • Only do an exercise for as long as you can maintain proper form (because proper form is key). Continuing beyond this point provides no added benefit as your body is simply finding ways to compensate and is forming patterns of misalignment without strengthening the targeted area.

Because of this, more is not always better. Times, reps, and recommended workout frequencies are not provided here because all of these are dependent on the individual and will vary greatly from person to person. Simply start with what is very manageable and slowly add on.

The 7+1 Best Do-Anywhere Core Exercises for Runners

When it comes to core strength, not all exercises are created equal. Sit-ups and crunches might be the go-to in 6th grade PE, but if you really want the best bang for your buck, there are better options. The following exercises not only work on the aesthetic core muscles (6-packs are a great side effect), but also work to strengthen the stabilization muscles necessary to improve your running. Best of all, this routine can be done anywhere. As long as you have your body weight and the aid of a stability ball, you are good to go. 


  1. The Standard Plank (and its many variations)

Proper Form:

  • Your elbows should be directly below your shoulders, and your forearms should be parallel to one another. Alternatively, you may choose to interlace your hands. Either way, hold a stable position and avoid moving your arms in order to prolong the amount of time that you can hold the position. 
  • Your head should be in line with your spine, and your eyes should be focused down at the floor below. Do not crane your neck back so that you can look straight out in front of you.
  • Maintain a straight line from your heels to the crown of your head.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can maintain good form. 

Variation:

  • High plank: Similar to the standard plank, but place your hands on the ground directly below your shoulders and keep your arms straight.

Progressions:

  • Alternating leg raise plank: In either standard or high plank, alternate lifting one leg at a time. Keep your legs straight.
  • Lateral leg plank: In either standard or high plank, lift one leg and move it side to side in a controlled motion, then switch legs and repeat.
  • Knee-to-elbow high plank: Beginning in high plank, bring your right knee toward your left elbow while maintaining a flat plank position, then extend your right leg back and bring your left knee toward your right elbow, and continue alternating.
  • Opposite arm-leg raise high plank: Beginning in high plank, simultaneously lift your right leg and left arm. Hold both of these limbs parallel to the floor for about 3 seconds, then perform the same motion with your left leg and right arm. Continue alternating.
  • Walking plank: Beginning in standard plank, straighten your left arm, then your right to come into high plank. Then bend your left arm followed by your right to come back down into standard plank. Repeat this process beginning with your right arm and continue alternating. 

  1. Side plank

Proper Form:

  • Your elbow should be directly below your shoulder, with your forearm extending perpendicular to your body.
  • Your head should be in line with your spine, with your eyes focused directly in front.
  • Maintain a straight line from your heels to the crown of your head.
  • Your may either keep your top arm in line with your body or raise it straight up so that it is perpendicular to the floor.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can maintain good form. 

Variation:

  • High side plank: Similar to the side plank, but place your hand on the ground directly below your shoulder and keep your arm straight.

Progression:

  • Side plank with leg abduction: Start in side plank or high side plank, then raise your top leg and hold it.

  1. Boat

Proper form:

  • Keep your back flat.
  • Make a 90 degree angle with your hips at the floor.
  • Bend your knees so that your shins are parallel to the floor.
  • Keep your feet next to each other without crossing your ankles.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can maintain good form. 

Progression:

  • Boat taps: Beginning in boat, twist your torso to alternately touch your hand to the floor on the opposite side of your body. For added resistance, do this while holding a weighted object.

  1. Bridge

Proper form:

  • Keep your shoulders and head flat on the ground and your arms parallel to your body.
  • Your knees and feet should be pointing straight ahead with your feet about shoulder-width apart.
  • Your hamstrings, glutes, and back should all be engaged in order to create a straight line from your knees to your chest.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can maintain good form. 

Progression:

  • Marching bridge: Maintaining proper bridge form, march your feet by alternately lifting them high off the ground.

5. Cobra

Proper form:

  • Laying prone on the floor with your arms by your sides, simultaneously lift your torso and legs a few inches.
  • Keep your eyes focused just a few inches in front of you (do not crane your neck back to look straight ahead).
  • If desired, you can interlace your hands behind your back.
  • Hold this position for as long as you can maintain good form. 

Progression:

  • Superman: Similar to cobra, but lift one arm in from of your body and the opposite leg and hold for about 3 seconds. Then switch to the other arm-leg pair and continue alternating.

  1. Stability ball tucks

Proper form:

  • Your hands should be on the ground directly below your shoulders.
  • Keep your spine straight all the way through your head.
  • Start with your legs fully extended and feet on a stability ball.
  • Bring your legs into a tuck, rolling the ball up and back at a controlled pace. Repeat. 

  1. Stability ball hamstring curls

Proper form:

  • Lay with your head and shoulders flat on the ground and your arms by your sides.
  • Place your heels on a stability ball and form a straight line all the way from your feet to your chest. 
  • Bending your knees, engage your hamstrings and glutes as you lift your rear up and roll the ball in toward you. Then roll back at a controlled pace and repeat. 

Progression:

  • Single leg curls: Same as stability ball hamstring curls, but with just one leg on the stability ball. You can cross your resting ankle over your working quad to keep that leg out of the way.

+1 Bonus Challenge: V-ups

Proper form:

  • Lay completely flat on your back with your arms straight up above your head.
  • Think of maintaining two completely straight lines: one from the waist down and one from the waist up.
  • Engage your core to pull both your legs and torso up into a V shape, then slowly lower yourself back down. Your motions should feel steady and controlled. 

Tracie is a former teacher and a lifelong learner who loves exploring. Most at home in the mountains, she enjoys tearing up and down the trails on her mountain bike, and occasionally leaves the wheels at home for a run through the trees. Having recently earned her personal trainer certification, Tracie thrives on helping others reach their athletic goals.

Read more posts by Tracie

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