5 Core Exercises That Increase Stability and Running Efficiency

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My college coach said the best thing you can do to become a better runner is to run, and this is true. That being said, the development of core strength is an important way to improve running biomechanics and correct imbalances that can lead to injury.

As a coach at the Reebok ZAP Fitness Center, I tell our athletes they need to complete core exercises that benefit their running.

More: How Runners Benefit From Sport-Specific Strength Training

You, too, need to do exercises that have a direct impact on your running performance. Make sure you're performing the exercises in a way that is consistent with the way your muscles work while you are running; in order to do this effectively, you need to know a bit about how your muscles fire while running.

When your body braces for impact, it should automatically engage the transverse abdominus. An easy test to finding this muscle and activating it:
  • Find the front side of your iliac crest, the most prominent bone in the pelvis. Place your hands on your hips, feeling for the bone and following it down and to the front.
  • Place your fingertips on your abdominals about one inch in toward your belly button on each side.
  • Cough. When you cough, you will feel the transverse abdominus flex. Notice your belly button sink in towards your spine.
This is the activation you want at the beginning of all of the core exercises because you should engage the transverse abdominus while you're running. It's also important to pay attention to your posture. Make sure your spinal position is long and neutral, just the way you want it while running. One of the most common issues athletes experience while performing core stabilization exercises is the collapse of the lower back. Keep the transverse abdominus engaged by tucking your hips so your lower back is relatively flat. You will have some natural curvature to the lower back, but focus on keeping the lower back as quiet as possible while stabilizing the core. Pay attention to these two focal points regardless of what core exercises you perform.
More: 6 Exercises to Become a Stronger Runner

Core-Strengthening Exercises

The following five simple exercises will help you become a more stable and efficient runner. When performing these exercises, remember: the execution is more important than speed or reps. If you find yourself unable to perform the exercise correctly as you fatigue, stop and rest because doing the exercise incorrectly only reinforces bad habits.

Clam Shells

  • Complete two sets of 10 reps on each leg
  • Progress to three sets of 15 reps on each leg

This exercise activates and strengthens the gluteus medius. Make sure that your hips remain stable through the motion, and you avoid rotating your hips as you lift your knee—even if it limits the motion. To keep your spine in a neutral position, make sure your torso, hips and extended arm are aligned. Rest your head on your arm.

Hip Raises

  • Complete two sets of 10 reps on each side
  • Progress to three sets of 15 reps on each side

This exercise activates the entire stabilization chain, from the transverse abdominus to the glutes to the hamstrings. Start by activating the transverse abdominus and tucking your hips. This position will enable you to roll your spine off the ground one vertebra at a time while maintaining a neutral spine. Focus on using your glutes to raise your hips, not activating your lower back to push your hips up. If you use your lower back to raise your hips, this means you've exceeded the range of motion you are currently capable of. Hold the position at the top for a few seconds then return your hips to the ground one vertebra at a time.