Core Exercises for Runners

(RxWiki News) Six pack abs may look good, but if you want a strong core to reduce the risk of low back pain, focus on the deep core muscles that don’t show.

If you’re a runner, don’t ignore your deep core (trunk) muscles. Strengthening them may help prevent low back pain, according to a small study1.

  • The deep core muscles are bundles of muscles deep in the abdomen, low back, hips, and pelvis that act together to stabilize the spine and support posture.
  • Some attach directly to the lumbar spine.

These are in contrast to the superficial core muscles, whose main function is to produce movement and transmit forces to the arms and legs.

  • The superficial core muscles are the ones that can give you a “six-pack” if you strengthen them enough.
  • Whereas the deep core muscles cannot be seen, no matter how strong they are.

Many runners tend to focus on trying to run faster and longer while neglecting to exercise their core muscles, especially their deep core muscles. This may help explain why many of them have chronic low back pain.

For the study, researchers examined eight participants as they ran on a track in a lab. With motion-detection technology and high-speed cameras, they looked at how the muscles moved and the force the runners exerted on the ground. The researchers then did computer simulations to see how the body compensates when muscles are weakened.

Here’s what they found:

  • The deep core muscles were progressively weakened as a whole.
  • The superficial trunk muscles around them had to work harder to maintain normal running motions.
  • This resulted in faster muscle fatigue and greater load on the vertebral column of the spine. This can increase the risk of muscle strain and degenerative disc disease.

Weakening of the deep portions of the erector spinae led to the greatest compensation. These muscles run up both sides of the spine.

  • This suggests that the muscle “plays the largest and most unique role” when it comes to proper running form.
  • Researchers noted that by strengthening the deep core muscle, especially the deep erector spinae, a runner may reduce the risk of getting low back pain.

To prevent back injury, it’s not simply a matter of doing sit-ups, crunches, or other abdominal exercises that work the superficial trunk muscles.

  • The focus should be on static exercises that go deeper. Here are two exercises that go deeper:
    • Planks
    • Side bridges
  • Exercising on an unstable surface may activate core muscles more than exercising on a stable surface. Examples of such exercises include:
    • Exercise balls
    • Balance boards
  • Back extension exercises help strengthen the erector spinae muscle. Such exercises are shown on these videos:
  • Pilates and yoga are other good ways for runners to get a core workout. But if you already have back pain (or other musculoskeletal issues), you should talk to your doctor before starting any exercise program.



  1. M. Raabe. Journal of Biometrics, December, 2017.