Core Training for Runners

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Take a deep breath and read on

“Core training?  Nah, not for me … I’m a runner. I don’t need to waste time working on my abs.”

Does this sound familiar?  It’s a common thought, but oh so wrong. “Core” is one of the most overused and misunderstood terms in health and fitness today. In the body, the core is comprised of all the major muscles from the shoulders to the buttocks, specifically the diaphragm; abdominals; latissimus dorsi; gluteals; iliopsoas; the  paravertebral muscles in the lumbar and thoracic spine, and the trapezius.

Together in a coordinated sequence of contractions, these core muscles help stabilize the hips and trunk leading to better posture, better strength and a more stable base for which our arms and legs can work. A strong core will help transfer energy to and from your upper and lower body and limit lost energy through unneeded movements.  

As an endurance athlete, your core is important and is specifically engaged in a number of movements, including: the arm swing during running; the swim stroke as a whole; and bicep recruitment on the bike.


During running, your lats and glutes use a coordinated system of tension and contraction to help get more stability in the pelvis and power in the legs. This can only happen effectively with a strong core. A strong core in essence will give you a lift which can lessen the workload to your legs while running. With swimming, a strong core will keep you streamline and make your pulling and kicking more powerful. On the bike climbing a hill, you engage your biceps to pull up on the handlebars; this force gets transmitted through your core to your legs and into the pedal for more power.

So now that you know a little about what it is and why your “core” is so important to your athletic success, let’s see how to train it functionally. First, you need to understand the most basic of core exercises─breathing. Yeah that’s right, breathing. But don’t worry, I won’t get too yoga on you runners out there. Breathing from your diaphragm is essential to a well functioning core and the foundation on which all core exercises should be built. It is the initiating force to all successive muscle contractions in the body.


To do this, close your lips and put your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Inhale through your nose and fill your belly with air; ensure the air is filling your belly and not your chest. Now, exhale through your mouth and assist the exhalation by tightening and drawing in your belly (as if you were buttoning a tight pair of pants). Your stomach may flatten and you should feel your abdominals and lower back contract slightly. This takes very little effort─about three to five pounds of force. Work on this as often as you can each day─lying in bed, sitting in traffic, waiting in line at Starbucks. Repetition is key here.

So breathe on my friends and look for future blogs on more functional “core” training exercises for, yes … runners.

Michael Silva, PT
Guest Contributor

Michael Silva, PT

Michael Silva, MS, PT, CSCS, is president and founder of FOUNDATION Performance in Pawtucket, RI. He is a physical therapist, exercise physiologist, and certified strength and conditioning specialist who’s been training and creating exercise programs for people of all levels since 1994, and an orthopedic, sports medicine physical therapist since 1999. Michael’s expertise has made him a sought after clinician in the competitive running world where he has worked with runners associated with the USA National Olympic team, Irish National Olympic team, New Zealand National Olympic team and Australia National Olympic team, as well as colleges and universities nationwide.

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