11 Ab-Strengthening Exercises Every Runner Needs to Know to Prevent Injury
If you haven't already figured it out, core strength and stability is important for all movement. Whether you're someone who likes to go on daily walks or someone who is into strength training or ultramarathons, your core helps you move at your best. And if you're a runner, you guessed it, a strong core is a must!
"Core strength is extremely important for runners," Niraj Vora, DPT, cofounder of The Stride Shop, told POPSUGAR. "By being in tune with the core musculature, including the abdominals, obliques, back, and glutes, you will place your body in a better position to transfer energy," he explained. Having a stable core also allows for optimal use of your legs, which helps propel you forward as you run, Leada Malek, PT, DPT, CSCS, SCS, a board-certified sports physical therapist told POPSUGAR. Not to mention, the strength you use in your trunk to stabilise your moving body when you're running or playing a sport is essential to prevent injury, and it makes you more efficient at whatever activity you're participating in, Dr. Vora said.
So how do you know if you have a weak core? "It can be extremely hard to objectively assess core strength, but we can find clues in watching someone run," Dr. Vora explained. Hunching forward later in your runs, leaning back, and hyper-active arms are all indicators that your core isn't as strong as it should be. Additionally, Dr. Malek said, "hip, knee, and ankle 'dragging' through excessive range in strides," is an indicator of a weak core. So is excessive low-back extension with push off or excessive pelvic rotation during striding, she continued. Some people may also experience low back or hip flexor discomfort "as things surrounding the core are placed under more strain" when you have a weak core, Dr. Malek said.
Conversely, being able to hold a single-leg bridge for 30 seconds on each side, and holding a side plank with your top leg lifted for 20 seconds on each side are indicators that your core is strong and firing properly, according to Dr. Vora. Another indicator of a strong core is feeling and looking more explosive and efficient as you run, according to Dr. Malek.
To improve your core strength, Dr. Vora said you first have to understand the difference between core strength and stability. Core strength involves producing force via a specific exercise, whereas core stability is the ability to resist unwanted motion.
Instead of just focusing on strengthening movements like sit-ups and planks, Dr. Vora recommends focusing on slow, resisted movements of the lower body and trunk. A core-strengthening program that not only targets the six-pack muscles, but also the deep core stabilizers like the obliques, transverse abdominis, and multifidi is important, Dr. Malek said. "Coordinating the trunk muscles (core muscles) of the hips, lower back, and abdominals while running makes you an efficient runner," Dr. Vora said. And once your core muscles are targeted, Dr. Malek recommends focusing on secondary stabilizers and more "global" core muscles like the erector spinae, glutes, and hamstrings.
There isn't one perfect exercise to improve your core strength, and the "best" moves will vary from person to person based on variables such as your ability and base strength. Ahead, we've rounded up exercises from physical therapists and trainers that can help to improve your core strength. This isn't a workout, and we don't recommend doing all of these exercises at once. If you have specific questions about your core or want to know more about your running posture, we recommend working with experts like a physical therapist who can create a custom program based on your abilities and goals.