Marathon Monday: Core Work for Runners

Good morning, everyone! How was your weekend? 

One of the most beneficial inclusions I have made to my training over the years has been core work. It has kept me injury-free, helped me run faster and farther, and provided mental and physical balance to the pounding of running. Once upon a time, even, core work was my source of income when I worked for two years as a Pilates instructor at my undergraduate college (best job ever). 

Don’t limit yourself to just crunches; in addition to not being the most effective or safest exercise, they’re monotonous. Core work for runners, like any other form of exercise, should be enjoyable, and it can be when you can chose from Pilates, yoga, body weight strength training, stability ball exercises, and so on.

Core Work for Runners

Why should you do core work? I’ve written about it before for this blog, but it bears repeating. A stronger core improves your posture, which in turn improves your running form and makes you a faster and more injury-proof runner. A stronger and more stable core increases your endurance and physical resistance to fatigue, aids you in climbing hills, provides stability for running downhill, and improves your running efficiency. Not to mention that many of us desire a toned core for aesthetic and overall health reasons. 

Let’s take a look at some popular core workouts. I am including links to some of my favorite core workouts so you can do them as well!


Out of all the types of core workouts, Pilates is my perennial favorite. Pilates experienced a moment of trendiness back a few years ago, but I argue it’s worth practicing even as other workouts take its place in terms of popularity. While Pilates studios offer the benefit equipment such as reformers and instructor feedback, which can be beneficial for learning how to properly execute the exercises, you can do Pilates at home and still receive all the benefits. Pilates uses precise movements to strengthen your ab muscles deeply and from all angles. Other than my years of teaching mat Pilates, I have practiced from the comfort of my own home with just a mat and some Gaiam DVDs. Pilates is beneficial for runners beyond strengthening your core: it stretches your muscles, especially your hamstrings, reinforces good posture, and is a low-impact exercises that brings balance to high mileage and intense running workouts. 

Pilates Intermediate Mat Workout from Gaiam (Amazon Affiliate link)

9 Pilates Moves for a Flatter Stomach from Women’s Health Magazine

Best Pilates Workout for Runners from WalkJogRun


Many runners cross-train with yoga, and for good reason. Yoga provides a total-body workout that strengthens your core while realigning your body and stretching your muscles. Many yoga poses build core strength and stability as you use your core to stabilize your body into a pose. Many of the twisting poses in yoga work your core while also stretching any tight back, ab, and glute muscles. Like Pilates, you can either attend a yoga studio to benefit from the guidance and feedback on form from an instructor or find many free videos online. There’s even a whole genre of yoga videos geared specifically towards runners. 

Killer Core Yoga from Runner’s World Yoga Center

Yoga for Runners: Post-Run Yoga from Do Yoga With Me

Yoga for Everday Athletes from Women’s Health Magazine

Strength Training/Weight Lifting

Traditional body weight and weight lifting exercises are another great option for strengthening your core. These allow you to isolate specific core muscles (erector spinae, glutes, transverse abdominis, obliques) with exercises such as back extensions, birddogs, planks, Russian twists, and bridges. You can also work your core while strengthening your upper body or lower body with compound exercises, such as squats, lunges, pushups, or pull-ups. Strength training allows a lot of space for progression, as you can always add heavier weights or more repetitions to prevent your body from becoming used to the exercises and plateauing. 

Beyond your own body weight and dumbbells/barbells, there are several pieces of exercise equipment that will aid you in building a stronger core. Stability balls provide an unstable surface for core work, which makes your muscles work harder and increases your core stability as well as the muscular strength. Almost all kettlebell exercises engage the core, even if they are not specifically core exercises. TRX bands add resistance to basic body weight exercises to provide more of a challenge to your core. 

Ab Workout for Distance RunnersPlanks for Runners Workout, All-Angles Ab Workout from This Runner’s Recipes

Kettlebell Core Exercises from Women’s Running

Fast Abs Workout from Runner’s World

Most importantly, chose the core workout that is best for you! Whichever of these exercises you enjoy is the one you will adhere to over time, so do not force yourself to do Pilates if you would only rather do weight lifting. That said, a new workout will offer variety and extra challenge to your muscles, which will only further strengthen and stabilize them. 

Weekly Workouts

Portland Marathon Training Week 2 | This Runner's Recipes

Monday: AM: 9 miles on the treadmill, 1% incline: 2 mile warm-up, 12 x 400 meters in 1:45 (7:00/mile) with 400 meter recovery jog, 1 mile cool-down. PM: 30 minutes of core workout and strength training.

Tuesday: AM: 6 miles easy, 9:07/mile. PM: 25 minutes of Pilates 

Wednesday: 6 miles easy, 8:55/mile.

Thursday: 6 miles easy, 9:13/mile, with Charlie. This was Charlie’s longest run to date and I’m so proud of how well he did! PM: Power yoga (25 minutes) and 10 minutes general strength training (planks, push ups, squats, bridges). 

Portland Marathon Training Week 2 | This Runner's Recipes

Friday: 6 miles easy, 8:56/mile, followed by 4 20-second strides.

Saturday: 8 miles on the treadmill, 8:49/mile, 849 feet elevation gain (1-5% incline) and lower body strength training.

Sunday: 1:45 hour hike, 1500 feet elevation gain, with one spectacular view of Mt. Rainier.

Portland Marathon Training Week 2 | This Runner's Recipes

41 miles for the week

 [Tweet “Core work will make you a faster and stronger runner. Learn about which core workout is best for you from @thisrunrecipes #fitfluential “]

Questions of the Day:
How was your training this week? What was your best run?
What’s your favorite type of core work?


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18 Responses

  1. Glad you mentioned that core is not just planks and sit ups, there is so much more that goes into it, and I learn more and more about it all the time, great resources you have here! Training is building up for you! Very exciting!

  2. I was so strong in my core last year (when I was still doing yoga very regularly in addition to other things). I really need to get my act back together! I was actually thinking about this last night!

  3. Whenever you talk about pilates you convince you to give it another try! I used to do some DVDs but they have gone missing since the move. To me, pilates is the most challenging core workout which probably means it is the type I need to do the most:) I usually stick to more traditional strength training core work or yoga. But I have also been trying out barre which is a great way to change things up!

    1. I lost some of my Pilates DVDs in my move also (or the move before that), so let me know if you find any good new ones! Barre is such a good workout for the core also – all those micromovements are so challenging!

  4. I love that Charlie’s little legs made it six miles successfully! That’s about the limit of how far I take Tori. Usually I save about 3-4 miles of a run for her.

    Great line up of core work, here, thank you!

    1. It amazes me what little endurance athletes our dogs can be! I’m going to cap Charlie at six – he would love to go longer but I don’t want to push him.

  5. Training this week was pretty subpar due to not feeling so well… but I am hoping that after my run on Saturday, I can get back into a groove this week. Favorite type of core work are stability exercises, like squats on a half bosu ball, and planking. Great week of training!! Keep it up girl!

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