Core Strength and other exercises for runners
Become a stronger runner with strength exercises
There are 3 Simple Exercise Sessions here for you to become stronger:
- Part 1: Core strength for runners
- Part 2: Strength exercises using your body weight
- Part 3: How to use your ITB Roller to speed your recovery
Each section has a Runtalk Video with Doug James (physiotherapist and podiatrist) and Steve Manning (podiatrist and running footwear specialist) from intraining Running Injury Clinic.
TIP: Make sure you progress into each of the exercises. Do not attempt the harder ones without progressing to that level of difficulty. If you are not sure, come and see us for the correct technique.
Core strength for runners
Building your core strength is a worthwhile investment in your running. Having a strong core enables you to run with a better technique which may reduce your likelihood of injury, and can also help you to run further and faster! In a recent study, amateur runners performed a few core strength exercises 5 days per week. After 6 weeks, the runners recorded an average improvement of 1 minute in their 5km race time!
Your ‘core muscles’ are found in your lower back and abdomen. These include the Transversus Abdominus, Multifidus, and Oblique abdominal muscles and they work to help keep your torso and hips stable. For runners, it is reasonable to include the Gluteus Medius and Minimus muscles on the side of your hips in this group too. Having good strength and endurance in these muscles is important not just in running, but can help to improve your posture and reduce the incidence of lower back pain in your everyday life.
Utilising your core muscles when running is an automatic process that becomes more effective as the muscles become stronger and fatigue resistant. You should find that you can maintain good running form (upright torso, and reduced hip drop) more easily and for longer after doing targeted core strength exercises for a few weeks. In order to ‘engage’ your core, focus on trying to ‘run tall’. This cue will coordinate the core muscles to improve your running posture and allow you to generate greater propulsion with less wasted energy. It’s important to note that to tense your stomach or core while running is counterproductive and can negatively affect your breathing.
Training your core muscles can be done easily at home with minimal to no equipment. In order to gain a reasonable benefit, you should aim to do a workout at least 3 times per week. Begin with easy exercises – they should feel challenging but not painful. Progress the exercises as you feel able by increasing the number of repetitions, difficulty and/or hold time. Three handy exercises are included below. You can attempt the exercises without a foam roller, but this is a great piece of equipment to have at home – it can be used to make the exercises more challenging and useful for managing minor muscle niggles.
Exercise 1: Bridges
Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Raise your hips off the floor and hold this position for 5-10 seconds. Start by doing 3 sets of 6 lifts, progressing to 10 lifts.
Exercise 1 – progression: Bridge with foam roller.
Once you are comfortable with the Bridge, make it harder by placing a foam roller under your feet. The extra height under your feet will make it more challenging, and you can make it tougher still by slowly rolling the foam roller away from you with your feet. As above progress towards keeping your hips in the air for 10 seconds and repeating 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Exercise 2: Table Tops
Lay on your back with your feet on the floor. Raise your knees up until your thigh is 90° to your hip and your knees are bent 90°. Hold this position for 10 seconds then lower your feet to the floor. For a slightly harder challenge alternate raising and lowering each leg during each repetition.
Exercise 2 – progression: Table Top on foam roller.
You’ll need a full-length foam roller for this. Lay with your back and head on the foam roller. Keeping your hands on the floor, lift your legs up to the tabletop position as above. From here try to maintain your balance while reducing the amount of contact you have with the ground – move from hands to fingertips, to one finger only on the ground. If you’re well balanced try not to touch the ground at all. Try to balance on the roller for 3 sets of 30 seconds (it still counts even if you fall off).
Exercise 3 – Prone Planks.
Position yourself facing the floor with your elbows under your shoulders and resting either on your knees or toes. Your body should make a straight line from your shoulders to knees or ankles. Hold this position for up to 30 seconds. Repeat 3 times.
Exercise 3 – progression: Plank with foam roller.
Assume the plank position as above with a foam roller underneath the mid part of your forearms, perpendicular to them. Try to hold a plank position while moving your arms slowly and smoothly backwards and forwards on the foam roller. For the ultimate challenge try this while balancing on one arm only.
- Start with fewer reps
- Move-in a small range of movement to start
- Progress the exercises as you feel able by increasing the number of repetitions, difficulty and/or hold time.
- Stop if you feel sore
Need extra help?
If you would like to progress with more challenging exercises or feel that you can not manage the exercises without discomfort or difficulty book in to our team at intraining Running Injury Clinic. We are runners who specialise in running injuries and biomechanics.
HEAR more from Doug in Runtalk #29 – How to use our ITB Roller for core strength exercises.
Exercises using your body weight
Exercise 1: Squats
Begin with your feet hip-width apart and angled slightly outwards. Slowly lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Focus on keeping most of your weight on your heels. Return to your starting position. Repeat 12 times for 3 sets.
Exercise 1 progression: Single leg squats
Stand with a stable chair positioned just behind you. Lift one foot off the ground in front of you and slowly lower your backside down towards the chair. Return to starting position just before you make contact with the chair. Keep your knee steady during this exercise (minimise any sideways movement).
Exercise 2: Double leg calf raises
Stand with your feet at hip-width apart. Slowly raise onto tiptoes. Take two seconds to raise, and two to lower. Aim to complete 3 sets of 12-15 repetitions. If the ball of your foot becomes sore, try wearing shoes.
Exercise 2 progression: Single leg calf raises
As per the double leg version, perform this on single let only, using the wall or a table to help with balance. Try to keep an even rhythm throughout the exercise. If you’re unable to complete 12 in a row on one leg, continue the rest of the exercise on two legs.
Exercise 3: Lunges
Be careful with this exercise if you are prone to patella (knee cap) pain. Stand with your hands on your hips. Take a long step forward and bend both knees to lower your body towards the ground. Try to keep the front shin vertical and your front knee over your ankle instead of your toes. Make sure your knee is pointing forwards rather than inwards during this exercise. Step forward with the other leg and repeat 10 times on each leg. Continue for 3 sets.
Exercise 3 progression: Split squat jumps
From the lunge position, quickly jump upwards and land in the lunge position with the opposite leg in front. Again, care must be taken to avoid irritating your knee. Aim for 5 jumps per side for 2-3 sets.
Here Runtalk #32 BODYWEIGHT EXERCISES – Part 2 of 3 showing you simple strength routines you can do at home to become a stronger and faster runner.
How to use your ITB roller for recovery
Your ITB Roller is a very handy accessory to have at home. It helps with:
- massaging your legs between runs
- a tool to help manage ItB niggles and injuries
- Strength exercises (as seen in part 1)
Using your ITB roller can be uncomfortable at first, but once you do this a few times, your body adapts and you will gain many benefits from 5 – 10 mins of rolling 3 – 5 times a week. Listen to Doug’s approach to using the ITB roller for self-massage.
WATCH how Doug James, physiotherapist and podiatrist, uses the ITB Roller for ITB, quad and calf massage.