Running is one of the best calorie-burning exercises. Plus, running improves cardiovascular health, and it builds muscle endurance, the ability to sustain sub-maximal muscle contractions for a prolonged period of time. That’s important if you play certain sports or run long distances. You might also wonder whether running works muscles other than those in your lower body, especially the muscles in your core.
Why focus on your core? Core strength matters as the muscles that make up your core are the center from which your body generates power. That’s why some people refer to the core muscles as the body’s “powerhouse.” When these muscles are strong, you can jump higher, change directions faster when playing sports, and do the movements you do every day more efficiently. Core strength is the key to functional fitness. Plus, a strong core is important for healthy posture, body alignment, and preventing lower back pain.
Does Running Strengthen Your Core?
Back to the question at hand; does running improve core strength? It can, but the intensity with which you run makes a difference. When you run, you engage your deep abdominal muscles called the transverse abdominis. These are the muscles that pull your pelvis in toward your back like a girdle. They also stabilize the spine, and that’s important for a healthy back. You activate your core muscles more if you sprint rather than run or jog at a moderate intensity. When you sprint, the higher intensity forces your core to tighten more to stabilize your body as you shift your momentum forward.
There are added benefits of sprinting over steady-state running or jogging. If you’re trying to reveal your abdominal muscles, sprinting will help you burn that layer of fat that covers your abs more than moderate-intensity exercise. Sprinting also activates fat-burning hormones that help you melt away unwanted body fat more than steady-state exercise does.
Plus, sprinters, because they activate their fast-twitch muscle fibers more, have more muscle definition. Think about how the bodies of long-distance runners and sprinters differ. A sprinter is lean and muscular, whereas a long-distance runner is more likely to be lean with less muscle definition.
You can enhance the core benefits of sprinting by tightening your abs and pulling your navel toward your spine when you run or sprint. Doing this will help you better target your core every time you sprint or run. Do it consistently and the benefits add up.
Running is Helpful but It’s Not Enough for a Strong Core
Although sprinting has core-strengthening benefits, it alone won’t maximize your core strength. For this, you need compound exercises, like deadlifts, squats, and push-ups, that engage all the muscles in your core. Also, include some rotational core exercises and isometric movements, like planks and plank variations. With this approach, you’ll work all the muscles that make up your core for balanced core strength. Also, the variety will help you avoid strength plateaus that pop up when you do the same exercises over and over. You can even do some of the exercises you currently do on a stable surface on a stability ball to further activate your core muscles, strengthen them, and make them more stable.
If you depend on running to keep your core strong, you’re not hitting all the muscles in your core as well as you could by including more focused core exercises. As with any workout, you need balanced strength development, and tightening your core when you run alone won’t create balanced core strength.
A Strong Core is Important if You Run
Why is core strength so important? If you run or sprint, you need core strength to maximize your running performance. In fact, most elite sprinters emphasize core training to boost their performance. Studies show sprinters with a strong core have more control over their center of gravity, generate greater speeds, and improve their ability to react quickly when they train or compete.
Even if you don’t sprint, but run longer distances, core strength is an asset. A strong core stabilizes your body when you run, and that improves running efficiency. With a strong core, you have fewer extraneous movements that zap your energy without improving performance. Plus, some studies show that having a strong core lowers the risk of lower-body injuries. That’s important if you do any kind of training, including general strength training.
Strength in certain core muscles matters more for injury prevention than others. For example, strong abdominal muscles don’t have a big impact on your risk of injury. However, having strong glutes, hip abductors, and hip adductors will. One study found that runners who became injured had weaker hip abductors and flexors on the injured side relative to the healthy side. That’s why you shouldn’t focus so much on abdominal exercises, like crunches, that you don’t include a variety of core exercises in your routine.
The Bottom Line
Is running enough for a strong core? Now you know the answer. Running activates some core muscles, particularly the transverse abdominus, and sprinting is a better core workout than running at a moderate intensity. Yet you need a well-rounded core workout to maximize the strength of your core. By doing a variety of core exercises along with compound strength-training movements, you’ll optimize the strength of your core. That will make you a better runner and sprinter, explaining why even runners need strength training. So, don’t depend on running alone to keep your core strong and stable. Include time in your fitness schedule for strengthening your core.
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