Functional Core Exercises for Runners

Functional Core Exercises for Runners

We all know now that crunches are not an effective core exercise, but is your core workout really all it can be? Basic core exercises such as basic plank and V-ups aren’t detrimental, but chances are, if you have been doing core work for more than a few months, you need to progress your exercises. Sure, you could complete more reps, but that won’t necessarily train your core through the full range of motion it needs to become strong and functional. So it’s time to think beyond the basic plank to functional core exercises for runners. 

Several of these exercises are not strictly core exercises. These are, after all, functional exercises – meaning that you work a variety of other muscle groups in coordination with your core. Coordination is one of the goals of strength training. When you run, you aren’t simply only working your legs or using your core, you are using each of your muscle groups together. Most of these functional core exercises are anti-rotational, meaning they require your core to resist rotation against external forces (such as weight or movement of other body parts).

You do not need to include all of these core exercises for runners in a single workout. Even adding one into your strength training workout will improve your core strength! 

Functional Core Exercises for Runners

Single Leg Deadlifts

Especially when weighted, single leg deadlifts are an anti-rotational exercise. Your entire complex of core muscles must work together in order to keep your body from rotating as you hinge at the hips. You also strengthen your glutes, hips, and hamstrings in this exercise. 

For even more challenge to your core, hold a single weight in the opposite hand of the standing leg. You will need to work harder to avoid rotating in either direction. 

A single leg deadlift is a hinge exercise, so the movement should occur predominantly in the hips. Stand on one leg, holding a weight in your opposite hand. While keeping your core engaged and hips level, hinge at the hips to lower down your torso and extend your other leg behind you. (You will have a slight bend in your standing knee). Focus on keeping your hips square and not rotating your torso. Slowly return to start. 

Functional Core Exercises for Runners


Deadbugs are a deceptively challenging core exercise. They appear relatively simple, but in reality, your entire core will be quaking if you do the exercise properly. Deadbugs are especially effective at strengthening the transverse abdominus and muscles surrounding the pelvis.

Unlike planks, you can’t as easily sag your hips or hunch your shoulders in a deadbug. If you are pressing your back against the floor, you are keeping your core fully engaged. Deadbugs are functional in the sense that they train your core to stabilize against motion in the limbs, improve mobility of the hips and shoulders, and increase range of motion. 

For the deadbug, lie on your back with your legs in a tabletop position (90-degree angle between the floor and your thighs, 90-degree angle at the knees) and your arms extended straight up and perpendicular to the floor. Your back should be flat against the floor/mat and you should pull your navel in to engage your abs. Slowly lower the left leg and right arm down, maintaining a flat back and tightened core throughout. 

To advance this exercise, you can hold a weight such as a dumbbell or light kettlebell in both hands, arms straight above your chest, and lower one leg at a time while maintaining a flat back. You can also use a stability ball held between your arms and needs to progress the exercise.

Kettlebell Swings

The top position of the kettlebell swing is essential a “vertical plank.” This exercise strengthens your core as you have to stabilize against the weight and avoid arching your lower back throughout the entire movement. 

Hold the kettlebell with both hands in front of your body. Your feet should be slightly wider than hip-width apart. Hinge at your hips while keeping your back flat, almost as if you were starting a modified stiff-legged deadlift. Engage your core and glutes to explosively swing the kettlebell with extended arms to shoulder height. Your body should be as if you were in a vertical plank for a second; then allow the bell to swing back to start. 

Pallof Press

The Pallof press is harder work than it appears. It is an anti-rotational movement, as your body has to resist rotating in the direction of the band or cable used. Pallof press works the entire core, including your obliques and transverse abdominis. 

You can use a cable machine or a resistance band looped around a pole. Come into a kneeling stance with your right side facing the anchor, with the band or cable at chest height. You should be far enough away from the anchor that that’s resistance in the band, or weight the cable machine enough to provide resistance. Hold the band/cable with both hands in front of your chest. Engage your core and push the band out until your arms are straight. Resist rotating and hold for 30-45 seconds. 

Functional Core Exercises for Runners

Side Planks

Like many of these exercises, side planks are anti-rotational. You work your core to stabilize your spine while also strengthening the sides of your body. Lateral strength is vital for runners, who can develop imbalances due to the forward nature of running. 

The variations and progressions of a side plank are numerous. You can add twists, leg lifts, knee drives, dips, or instability (with a TRX, Bosu, or stability ball). No matter what variation you pick, aim for 30-40 seconds in the plank per side. Focus on keeping your hips and shoulder blades stacked and tighten your core throughout. 

Offset Lunges

Yes, lunges work the glutes and quadriceps, but they also work the core as you stabilize yourself through the movement. This particular variation challenges the core. Loading the weight in the side of the body forces you to stay upright in the lunge, which in turn improves core stability and strengthens the obliques muscles supporting the spine. 

Functional Core Exercises for Runners

To perform an offset lunge, hold a weight (dumbbell or kettlebell) on one hand. You can hold the weight down by your side or racked at your shoulder. Step your leg on the same side back and lower into a lunge. Pause, then return to start. To advance the movement, add a single-arm press. 

Looking for more workouts? Try one of these:
Stability Ball Core Workout for Runners
Equipment Based Workouts for Runners
Functional Kettlebell Workout for Runners 
6 Core Workouts for Runners 
Hip, Core, and Glute Resistance Band Workout

Linking up with CoachesCorner!

What’s your favorite core exercise?


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7 Responses

    1. Goodness, core strength is SO vital in winter! I went for a snowy run today and realized (yet again) how much the C-section weakened my core. Stabilizing requires strength!

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  2. I love functional core exercises! For myself, it makes a quicker workout simply because so much is being worked in each exercise. For my clients, they are happy because they don’t have to do planks at the end of the workout!

  3. This is without a doubt the best core exercise guide I have ever seen. Not just for runners but also for anyone looking to properly build a stronger core. I have found dozens of core workouts online but they all seem lacking in a way I could never put my finger on. I am getting back into running after having two babies and an 8 year hiatus. I will be doing this religiously. Thank You!

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