Want to be a better runner? Try these 4 deep core exercises

a photo of a woman doing a side plank
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Whether you’re training for your first 5K, or your fastest marathon, getting a pair of the best running shoes is important. But so is following a running training plan, getting enough rest and recovery and especially strength training.

A strong core is essential for runners, as it stabilizes the body as you run, keeping your torso and spine upright, and your pelvis in the right place. And we don’t mean the outer six-pack muscles — your core is made up of 29 pairs of muscles, including those that lie deep in your midsection, like the transverse abdominis, as well as your pelvic floor muscles and the erector spinae muscles that run along the spine. 

But when it comes to working out which are the best ab exercises for runners, it can be overwhelming, especially if you’re already juggling a jam-packed training plan. To make things a little easier, we turned to strength and running coach Amy Haas, who shared four of the best deep core exercises for runners. Read on to find out more. 

What is the deep core workout for runners? 

Ready to work your core? Haas recommends the following exercises. “You can start with just 2 rounds of 12-15 reps or 20 seconds of each exercise (8-10 each side for the single sided movements) and increase from there!” she writes. “It’s also helpful to incorporate these exercises into the beginning of your other workouts as a little mobility & stability work!”

Side planks with leg raises: For this exercise, start in a side plank position, with your bodyweight on your forearm and your feet stacked on top of each other. Engage your core, and raise your top leg up towards the ceiling, then lower it back to your starting position. If this is too difficult, you can drop your bottom knee to the floor. Here’s what happened when this fitness writer did side planks every day for a week

Single leg hip bridges: For a single leg hip bridge, start in a hip bridge position, with your feet pressed into the mat and your knees bent. From here, straighten one leg out and away from your body. Pressing into the opposite foot, raise up into a hip bridge and back down, squeezing your glutes throughout.

Dead bugs: Start by lying on your back, keeping your lower back pressed into the mat — think about sucking your belly button into your spine. Raise your arms straight above you, and your knees into tabletop position. Slowly lower your right arm to a couple of inches off the floor behind your head, as you do so, stretch your left leg away from your body and lower that to just above the floor. Pause, then return to your starting position and repeat on the opposite side.

Keep alternating sides, and aim for three sets of 10 reps on each side. Read more on how to do a dead bug here, plus read what happened when I did 100 dead bugs a day for a week.

Bear hold: For this exercise, start on your hands and knees, with your hands stacked underneath your shoulders and your knees stacked underneath your hips. Engage your core and raise a few inches off the ground. Hold here, then lower back to your starting position. 

All of these exercises work the deepest core muscles — the transverse abdominis. This is the deepest core muscle, which is key to stabilizing your spine and pelvis, but also holding your internal organs in place. When you run, your core works to hold your body — as your arms and legs move in different planes, there’s subtle twisting in your torso to allow this movement to happen. A strong core has been found to improve running economy, reduce injuries, and even help runners get faster.

Like all good strength training sessions, however, you also work into different parts of the body — the single leg hip bridges target the glutes, and the bear hold works into the arms and shoulders, as well as the glutes and abs. Strong glutes are also important for runners, as they can help you sprint more powerfully, and generate a lot of speed on the run. 

Looking for more ab workout inspiration? All you need is three exercises to sculpt your core with this circuit, plus read what happened when our fitness editor did 100 heel taps a day for a week. We’ve also found the best running belts, the best running watches, and the best running sunglasses here.  

Jane McGuire
Fitness editor

Jane McGuire is Tom's Guide's Fitness editor, which means she looks after everything fitness related - from running gear to yoga mats. An avid runner, Jane has tested and reviewed fitness products for the past five years, so knows what to look for when finding a good running watch or a pair of shorts with pockets big enough for your smartphone. When she's not pounding the pavements, you'll find Jane striding round the Surrey Hills, taking far too many photos of her puppy.