Best Abdominal Exercises For Runners


We all have a vision of having great abs. Showing off that six-pack at the beach. Keeping your core strong for those long races.

How to get those washboard abs? Sit-ups and crunches are so passe. We’ve got better exercises and this article will show you how!

In the first half, we’ll discuss why runners need to strengthen their core. In the second half, we’ll give you actual exercises you can do.

If you want to level up your running game, you need to have a strong core. You will not become the best runner you can be without strengthening those abs and other core muscles. Let’s get started!

What Exactly are the Core Muscles?

While we might think of just the abs when thinking of the core, that actually isn’t correct. The core is comprised of muscles well beyond your six pack. In fact, there are actually eight different muscles that make up your core.

The transverse abdominis is the innermost layer of the core, whereas the rectus abdominis is your six pack. You also have muscles on the side of your abs—the internal and external obliques—as well as pelvic floor muscles that you use to control your need to urinate.

Finally, there are back muscles relating to spinal movement—the multifidi and paraspinals—and the diaphragm, which is the main respiratory muscle. The diaphragm is what allows you to breathe deeply and avoid shallow breaths.

Although you might not know this, the diaphragm helps substantially with respiration. It’s actually the most important respiration muscle! It is also an essential stabilizer for your core. If your diaphragm is in the proper position, it’s easier for you to breathe properly.

In order to run most efficiently and to have the most economical cardiovascular system, you have to breathe from your belly (your diaphragm), meaning that you need to work those core muscles so that it’s strong.

Your core muscles are interconnected and stretch from the pelvis and diaphragm to your back and hips. They are essential to giving you the strength and stability you need in both your upper and lower body.

What are the Benefits of Core Training for Runners?

For running, it might seem like a good idea to focus on strengthening the legs because that’s what you’re using to power yourself. However, it’s not quite that simple. Everything in your body is interconnected, so weak muscles in your core will impact your legs.

If you feel like you’ve been leveling out in running (or worse, deteriorating), it is probably because your core isn’t as strong as it should be. Don’t forget to work your core even as you’re strengthening your legs.

Run Faster

As a runner, one of your first concerns is making sure that an activity or exercise will improve your running, and working your core definitely will. If you have strong transverse and rectus abdominis muscles, which are the lower and deep abs, you’ll be faster and stronger when pounding the pavement.

Maintain Good Form

Your obliques are on the side, and they are important for maintaining good posture and supporting your torso, critical for good form when running. If you’re a long distance runner, you need strong obliques to make sure that you don’t cheat on maintaining proper running form.

Stay Stable

If your core isn’t strong, the rest of your body might try to overcompensate for that, making your movement inefficient and your body unstable. A weak core can lead to understriding or overstriding, which can impact your legs and give you cramps and cause big problems later on.

Protect Your Lower Back

Anyone who has dealt with a back injury knows how important it is to protect your back. While you can definitely make sure that you aren’t straining your back as you’re picking up stuff, a strong core can also help reduce injury in your lower back and even help with lower back pain!

Get Six Pack Abs

Finally, while this reason is almost purely aesthetic, you might be interested in strengthening your core to finally get those six pack abs that you’ve always wanted. Just be warned, you’ll need to pair core exercises with an extreme diet to get them.

It’s also important not to neglect the other core muscles just to try to look good.

Are Sit Ups and Crunches Good to Build Core Strength?

In actuality, no. They can actually be dangerous as both have been linked to microfractures in the spine. They can increase strength, but it’s in a non-athletic way. Core strength is more than just nice abs.

You’ll need to do more than sit ups and crunches to keep your core strong. Sit ups and crunches by themselves will not be able to give you the strength that you need and want from your core.

What are Some Exercises I Can Try?

Since sit ups and crunches probably are the first core exercises that pop into your head, we’re here with more suggestions! For an ab workout, you might consider picking 3-5 of these exercises for a total workout time of 10-20 minutes.

Do 3-6 sets of each exercise. You can either stick to one exercise or create a circuit, depending on your fitness needs. We’ve divided them by beginner, intermediate, and advanced so that you can pick some at your skill level.


If you haven’t done any type of core exercises before, except sit ups and crunches, you might want to try these exercises!

McGill Crunch

Start by lying on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand underneath your lower back and the other on your stomach. Keep the curve in your lower back the same while you use your lower abs to lift your head and shoulders. Hold for 10 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.

Bird Dog Crunch

Start by kneeling on all fours and then reach one arm out, draw in your abs, and extend the opposite leg behind you. As you round your back, bring your elbow and knees in toward your core, drawing in your abs. Do 10-20 reps before switching sides.


Start by lying on your stomach and extending your arms and legs. You’ll next want to raise both your arms and legs trying to form a kind of “u” shape with your body. Your arms and legs should be between 4 to 6 inches off the ground. Hold for several seconds and then lower back down. Do 10-20 reps.


If you’ve gotten comfortable with the beginner exercises, you might want to also try these core exercises.


The plank is one of the best exercises for your body because it works so many muscles. Start by getting comfortable with a basic plank and then increase the difficulty. You can do this by increasing the time or the position you’re in.

Start in a push up position and hold it for as long as you can, ideally working up to several minutes. Once you can do a basic plank for one to two minutes, add modifications like holding up an arm or a leg or, even more challenging, the opposite arm and leg at the same time.

You can even try putting one foot or one hand (and later both) up on a bosu ball or a medicine ball once a plank with modifications gets too easy. Make sure to hold as long as you can and then give yourself a 30-second rest.

Side Plank

As the name implies, you’ll be on your side for this plank. Start by lying on one side. Whichever side you pick, support your upper body with that forearm. Your other arm will be on the other side.

Lift your hips and keep your weight supported on the forearm and the foot on that side as you extend your other arm above your shoulder.

Repeat on the other side as well. Spend 30-60 seconds on each side, making sure that you’re maintaining good form the entire time.

Mountain Climber

Start in a high plank and then bend one knee at a time as close as you can to your chest and go as fast as you can. Make sure that your hips don’t drop. You should maintain for at least 20-40 seconds before stopping.


These core exercises are for those athletes who feel comfortable with all the other exercises and are ready for a challenge.

Leg Raises

Start by lying on your back with your legs straight together. Keep them straight as you lift them all the way up to the ceiling until your bottom comes off the floor and then slowly lower your legs back down until they are about to touch the floor.

Hold briefly and then raise them back up. Do this movement for at least 10-20 reps. Make sure that your legs stay straight as you’re raising and lowering them.

Flutter Kicks

Lie on your back with your legs just a few inches off the ground and put your hands underneath your glutes. Begin to “flutter kick” your legs up and down about three inches above the ground. Keep your stomach tight the whole time. Do this for a total of 20-40 reps.

V Ups

Start by lying with your back on the ground with your legs together and outstretched and your arms over your head. In one motion, bring your legs and hands together around the midline of your body.

Make sure to keep them as straight as possible as you come up and then return to the starting position. Do this for 10-20 reps.

Final Thoughts

In the end, having a strong core means more than just having six pack abs. You’ll want to take the time to complete core exercises beyond your traditional sit ups and crunches. Not only will your core become stronger but it will also make you a better runner—win-win!

Photo of author


Ben is an avid road and trail runner, and has completed multiple marathons and ultras. A former running store owner, he now shares his knowledge and experience writing these articles.