Before I became a runner, I was obsessed with ab exercises like crunches (that didn’t give me a 6 pack anyway). But as I became a more well informed runner and triathlete, I learnt about the value of core strength. When I asked experienced runners and coaches what else I could do to improve my running, their answer was yoga/pilates to strengthen my core.  

How to Engage Your Core

Benefits of a Strong Core

  • A strong core can improve running posture. While running longer distances, core strength is especially important to hold up posture towards the end of the race when fatigue takes over. 
  • The core holds up your upper body and also allows your lower body to move efficiently.
  • As my misadventures with my rolled ankle showed, core strength also improves balance and that makes it quicker to recover when you step wrong.

Exercises for a strong core

There are plenty of core exercises including the very commonly recommended planks. I’m not going to write about them today. For a fun plank workout, try these 47 different variations on a plank from the Greatist. Also check out Running on Happy for planking your way to a stronger core.

Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 4.10.53 PMCore, Hips and Pelvis

When I went to my sports chiropractor, Dr. Sadri at First Choice Sports Rehab, he checked me for my mobility, extension and some core strength. What he noticed was that I wasn’t extending my hips even though I had plenty of extension.

Engaging your core while running
Left: Standing still. Right: Bending Backwards
Engaging your core while running
Left: Without hip extension, Right: With hip extension and hips coming over toes

What does that mean? 

It meant that my core muscles are weak and not strong enough to keep my pelvis and hips aligned. And even though I might have *some* core, the core muscles are not engaging. Without that core engaging, my running is not benefiting from any of the core strengthening exercises I’m doing.

Engaging the Core

I took heart when Dr. Sadri said that most of the time the core muscles just need to be taught how to fire and engage. It might take a few tries, it might take a few weeks or months but that is something I should be working on along with the core strengthening.
Engaging your core is basically holding your ab muscles tight and pulled in, but one that includes your back, glutes, and pelvic muscles.

To know what that feels like -Stand against the wall and try to press your lower back into the wall. Watch what happens to your pelvis. You have to engage your lower abdominal muscles in a vertical crunch movement. Remember that feeling in your body and try to maintain it as you run.

Exercises to Engage the Core

Bird Dog

This is a great all-round exercise that I incorporate in my hips and gluten routine. An easy way to make sure that your core is engaged is to place a water bottle on your back and lift to bird dog and make sure that the water bottle doesn’t fall off. 

Leg Lift

Lie on the floor with knees bent. Put your hand under your back so you can feel the movement. Pull your belly button in and tuck your pelvis – the core engaging movement. You’ll know you are doing it right when your back presses into your hand. In this engaged position, pull one knee in to your chest slowly and breathe through it. Put it back down and repeat with the other leg. Make sure that you don’t let go the core when you switch legs.  

Both these exercises take less than 10 minutes and can easily be incorporated into your everyday core routine. 

What’s your core routine?
Do you actively work on engaging your core along with strengthening it? How do you work it in while  running? 


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Faux Runner

Smitha Barki, The "FauxRunner", is a runner, triathlete, vegetarian, User Experience Professional and a mom of 2 little minions. Slow and steady, she is passionate about her fitness journey and eager to share it and help others Redefine their Impossible.
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How to Engage Your Core
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  • Lisa@runningoutofwine

    Great info! I actually struggle with core engagement as well. When I had a running assessment done a few months ago I was given really basic exercises and told to really focus on form and control. Thanks for sharing this info!