The core is at the center of our every movement, especially as runners. It’s how we maintain a strong, upright posture, and what allows us to power through our stride with efficiency. So, it’s crucial runners include core workouts in their strength routines. And if you’re looking for an extra edge in those workouts, you can add a cardio element to get the heart pumping and support the stamina you need for the road.
That’s why Kristine Zabala, fitness instructor at Barry’s and Solidcore in Philadelphia, designed this cardio core workout specifically for athletes, so you get the best of both worlds.
The Benefits of a Cardio Core Workout for Runners
Runners need their core muscles engaged throughout every mile (even on those later ones!), not only to keep their posture upright, but also to avoid back pain and to keep their stride efficient. Plus, you need support from a solid midsection as you navigate hills, obstacles, and varying terrain, Jenn Kates, C.P.T., founder and coach at Shift Human Performance tells Bicycling. These movements all require your core strength to help you to maintain balance and stability on the road or trail, she says.
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Because running also requires quick movements, you need to learn how to keep your core stable through fast-paced moves, and while you’re breathing deep and working toward fatigue. That’s where the cardio portion of this cardio core workout comes into play.
How to use this list: Perform each exercise below for 30 to 40 seconds, resting for 15 to 20 seconds between each move. Do 2 to 3 rounds, resting for 30 seconds between rounds. You don’t need equipment for this workout, but an exercise mat is optional.
Zabala demonstrates each move so you can learn proper form.
1. World’s Greatest Stretch
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders right over wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders through heels. Step right foot to the outside of right hand on an inhale. Exhale to lift right hand to ceiling, rotating torso to the right. Place hand back down on an inhale. Then step back to plank. Repeat on the left side. Continue alternating.
2. Shoulder Taps
Why it works: You’ll focus on anti-rotation in this exercise, meaning your core has to fight to keep you stable so your hips and shoulders don’t rotate to one side. This is helpful because as you run, you need to maintain a strong base to propel you forward and eliminate side-to-side movement that hinders your efficiency.
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders right over wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders through heels. Tap left hand to right shoulder. Then place it back down. Tap right hand to left shoulder. Then place it back down. Continue alternating.
3. Plank Jacks
Why it works: This high-impact move gets the heart rate up, while forcing you to stabilize your core through quick movements of the legs. Your shoulders also need to stabilize you, which translates to the upper body strength you need for the arm drive.
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders right over wrists and forming a straight line from shoulders through heels, feet together. Jump feet out wide so they’re farther than hip-width apart. Then jump them back together. Repeat.
4. Superwoman With Pulse
Why it works: Your core doesn’t just mean your abs—your back is included too and is a big protector of your spine. This move is great for building strength and muscular endurance in the back, while also counteracting a forward-leaning posture.
How to do it: Lie face down, arms and legs extended. Keeping gaze toward floor, lift arms, head, shoulders, chest, and legs a few inches off the floor. Pull elbows down to sides in a W shape, hands reaching shoulders. Release an inch, then pull elbows back again. Straighten arms back out and lower all the way to floor. Repeat.
5. Alternating Toe Touch
Why it works: This exercise targets the rectus abdominis (or the “six pack” abdominal muscles) of the core, along with the obliques, which are super important stabilizers.
How to do it: Lie faceup, knees slightly bent with heels planted, hands at chest. Lift upper body and right leg off the floor, reaching for toes with left hand. Lower back to floor with control. Repeat with left leg and right hand. Continue alternating.
6. Seated Core Twist
Why it works: Hit the obliques with this rotational exercise. Zabala suggests moving slowly from side to side for the first 15 to 20 seconds, then fast through the second half.
How to do it: Sit on the floor, knees bent. Lean back a few inches and lift feet off floor. Keeping chest tall, back straight, rotate torso to the right. Then through center and to the left. Continue alternating.
7. Flutter Kick
Why it works: Zero in on core strength, keeping your midsection completely stable, while quickly moving the legs with this challenging exercise.
How to do it: Lie faceup, with legs straight, and arms straight and held over shoulders or down by sides for more support. Lift legs just a few inches off the floor, along with head and shoulders. Flutter straight legs by lifting and lowering one leg at a time, then switching to the other. Continue alternating. Keep back driving into the floor.
8. Bicycle Crunch
Why it works: This exercise mimics the movement you do on the road, driving one knee up and then the other. It also turns up the burn on the core muscles, particularly the obliques, which pays off in more efficient running. Move quickly but maintain strong form, not pulling on the neck, but rather rotating through torso.
How to do it: Lie faceup, hands behind head, elbows wide, head, neck, and shoulders off the floor. Bend knees and hold them straight above hips. Extend right leg and rotate torso to the left, reaching right shoulder to left knee. Return through center, and extend left leg, rotating torso to the right, shoulder to knee. Continue alternating.
9. Cross Climber
Why it works: Drive the knees in toward the chest quickly and you’ll not only experience the cardiorespiratory challenge of this exercise, but also how it targets the abs, hip flexors, back, and shoulders.
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders right over wrists and forming a straight line from head through heels. Drive right knee toward left elbow. Then step it back to plank. Drive left knee toward right elbow. Then step it back to plank. Continue alternating.
10. High-Low Plank
How to do it: Start in a plank position, shoulders right over wrists and forming a straight line from head through heels. Lower right forearm to floor, then left, keeping hips in line with shoulders and square to the ground. Then press through forearm, to place right hand back on the floor, then the left hand. Continue alternating sides and moving from straight-arm plank to forearm plank and back.
Mallory Creveling, an ACE-certified personal trainer and RRCA-certified run coach, joined the Runner's World and Bicycling team in August 2021. She has more than a decade of experience covering fitness, health, and nutrition. As a freelance writer, her work appeared in Women's Health, Self, Men's Journal, Reader's Digest, and more. She has also held staff editorial positions at Family Circle and Shape magazines, as well as DailyBurn.com. A former New Yorker/Brooklynite, she's now based in Easton, PA.