Coaching Focus: Improving running form and efficiency through core work

One of the cornerstones of becoming a strong runner is building your core strength to run more efficiently and faster for longer periods of time. A strong core can improve form (in particular stop you slumping towards the end of a long run or race), cut injury risk and help you generate more power, therefore increase speed.


What is your “core”? 
The term “core” is used to describe the whole musculoskeletal area around the middle of your body – as a rule, core work should strengthen all the muscles that support the pelvis and spine. This will include your abdominal muscles (transverse, rectus and obliques), lower back (erector spine), glutes, pelvic floor, hip flexors and even your hamstrings.


How often?

The great thing about core work is you can do so much without equipment, and little and often is best way. 5 minutes makes a huge difference. Research suggests to make something like this part of your routine, it needs to piggyback on an already established habit. Think about when you want to do your core work. Do you want to do 5 mins after every run? Or 5 mins whilst dinner is cooking? Link your time with another habit and it’ll stick much more easily.


What to do:
There are a lot of core moves to do, which is great for adding variety and interest to your routine. The thing to remember here is that we are runners and we want to do moves that help our running – these tend to be dynamic (moving) core moves – so instead of a straight forward plank, try a plank where you move your legs, like a spider plank. And other compound strength moves such as squats, deadlifts etc also work your core.


A few core routines are listed below. These are sets of 3 exercises, where you could do 30-40s of each, take a 10-20s break and then repeat the set twice more for a total of around 5 mins of core work …or switch it up and do two sets of two workouts. All of these exercises work multiple muscle groups but I have listed the main one they target in brackets. Try not to take a break between exercises to increase core fatigue.

Don’t forget, there is a twice weekly follow-along core session in MH Runners Club ( every week if you want more suggestions of core exercises that will benefit you as a runner. And if you’re already a member of the club, doing 2 of these 5 min core workouts in addition to the 2 club workouts will really help you see improvements.

Workout 1:

  1. Single leg glute bridge (glutes, hip flexors) Single Leg Glute Bridge
  2. Bicycle crunches (transverse abs, rectus abs, hip flexors, obliques) How to Do the Bicycle
  3. Side planks with reach (obliques)

Workout 2: 

  1. Dead bug (coordination, transverse abs, hip flexors, pelvic floor) Dead Bug – Abdominal / Core Exercise Guide
  2. Russian twists (obliques) How to Do a Perfect Russian Twist | Female Bodybuilding
  3. Scissor kicks (rectus, transverse abs, hip flexors)  How to properly do the scissor kick core exercise

Workout 3: 

  1. Plank with alternating arm and leg raise (balance, coordination, transverse abs)
  2. Superman (lower back) Exercise Tutorial – Superman
  3. Toe tap (rectus abs, hip flexors, obliques)

Workout 4: 

  1. Spider plank (obliques, abs)  How to Do Spiderman Plank Crunch Exercise
    (or if you’re feeling brave – Scorpion plank press up (hip flexors, obliques, upper body) “SCORPION PLANK PRESS!!”  Functional Fitness move (Core, Shoulders, Chest, Glutes)
  2. Windshield wiper (obliques, rotational core strength) How to Do a Windshield Wiper | Ab Workout
  3. The Boat (lower back, rectus abdominus, hip flexors) How To Perform The Boat Core Workout In 60 Seconds | 60 Seconds To Fit | Brawlers


How to get stronger
Once any of these moves start to feel easier, you can do them for a few seconds more (move from 30s to 45s for example), add resistance (weights or bands, depending on the exercise), or make yourself more unstable, which means your core has to work to stabilise you more. Using an exercise ball or bosu ball can help with this. Don’t forget to vary it up too – there are lots of options to shake up your workout.


But it hurts…
None of these exercises should hurt (especially your neck). If they do, check your form carefully. Consult a professional for a form check or adaptations if needed (for form, it is quite useful to video yourself to check).

How often do you do core exercises? Do you have some favourites that I haven’t mentioned (or any that you hate)? Share your thoughts and help motivate others!


Other useful resources:

MH Runners Club webinars on Strength & Conditioning For Runners

MH Runners Club Ask the Coach sessions


Join the Club at MH Runners Club

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Martin Hulbert

Running Coach & Personal Trainer Leicestershire

MH Health and Fitness Online Community