Core Workout for Running: 8 Yoga Poses for a Stronger Core

Looking for a core workout for running?

When it comes to running, core strength is a key factor to keep us running long and strong.

The core is comprised of:

  • The low back
  • Abdomen
  • Obliques
  • Hip flexors 
  • Glutes
  • And according to most sources, even the chest

Core workout for running: Benefits include:

  • Stabilizes the spine 
  • Coordinates the movement between the arms, pelvis and hips 
  • Acts as a foundation for moving the legs forward and backward in a repetitive motion over many minutes, hours and sometimes even days
  • Keeps the torso upright, making breathing more efficient and posture in correct alignment  

Numerous exercises can be done to strengthen the core, and many of those exercises exist within the physical practice of yoga.

In this article are eight yoga poses for runners to improve core strength, as well as balance. 

Consider these moves a core workout for running you can incorporate into your training routine...

When to practice the poses

They are best practiced after a yoga warm-up and before a cool down or within a body or weight-based strength routine.

Warm-ups can include yoga salutations such as these:

Note: The poses can also be done after a run.

  • If choosing to do so, slowly jog around to bring the heart rate down and get the breathing under control.
  • Perhaps do a few of the above sun salutations, and then practice the poses. 
  • It helps to bring a towel or yoga mat to the trailhead, track or park if running somewhere other than from your front door. Be sure to stretch afterward.

General cues for the poses for healthy alignment:

  • Stack the shoulders over the wrists and hips over the knees
  • Bring hands shoulder-width distance apart and knees hip-width distance apart
  • Draw the navel to the spine and knit the ribs in to avoid collapsing in the low back
  • Pull the crown of the head forward to lengthen the neck and spine
  • Draw the shoulders down away from the ears
1. Spinal Balance/ Bird Dog Pose (Photo/Colleen O’Neil)

1. Spinal Balance/ Bird Dog Pose

Instructions:

  • Begin on hands and knees, like a kid about to crawl
  • Stack the shoulders over the wrists and hips over the knees
  • Bring hands shoulder-width distance apart and knees hip-width distance apart
  • Draw the navel to the spine and knit the ribs in to avoid collapsing in the low back
  • Pull the crown of the head forward to lengthen the neck and spine
  • Draw the shoulders down away from the ears 
  • Reach the right arm forward 
  • Lift the left leg up 
  • Reach the fingertips and toes in opposite directions
  • Focus more on creating space and length rather than how high the arm and leg are lifted

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the back and core while improving balance
2. Knee to Elbow (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

2. Knee to Elbow

Instructions:

  • Begin in Spinal Balance/ Bird Dog Pose
  • Inhale to stretch long from fingertips to toe tips
  • Exhale to bring the knee to the elbow underneath of the body, rounding the back and drawing the navel to the spine
  • Inhale to open back into Spinal Balance/ Bird Dog Pose
  • Repeat five to 20 times on each side

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the back and core while improving balance
Leg Lift with Bent Knee and Arm Lift with Bent Elbow (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

3. Leg Lift with Bent Knee and Arm Lift with Bent Elbow

Instructions:

  • Begin in Spinal Balance/ Bird Dog Pose
  • Reach the right arm straight out to the side and bend the elbow to 90 degrees
  • Reach the left leg to the side and bend the knee to 90 degrees
  • Inhale to lift
  • Exhale to lower the arm and leg to a hover
  • Inhale to lift as shown in the photo
  • Repeat five to 20 times on each side
  • Option: Hold the last rep for eight to 10 breaths 

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the back, core, shoulders and glutes while improving balance
4. Leg Lift with Straight Leg (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

4. Leg Lift with Straight Leg

Instructions:

  • Begin on hands and knees
  • Stack the shoulders over the wrists and hips over the knees
  • Bring hands shoulder-width distance apart and knees hip-width
  • Draw the navel to the spine and knit the ribs in to avoid collapsing in the low back
  • Pull the crown of the head forward to lengthen the neck and spine
  • Draw the shoulders down away from the ears 
  • Inhale to lift and straighten the left leg 
  • Exhale to lower while keeping the leg straight 
  • Repeat five to 20 times on each side
  • Option: Hold the last rep for eight to 10 breaths 

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the core, gluteus medius and abductor muscles 
5. Hands and Knees with Knees Lifted (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

5. Hands and Knees with Knees Lifted

Instructions:

  • Begin on hands and knees
  • Stack the shoulders over the wrists and hips over the knees
  • Bring hands shoulder-width distance apart and knees hip-width
  • Draw the navel to the spine and knit the ribs in to avoid collapsing in the low back
  • Pull the crown of the head forward to lengthen the neck and spine
  • Draw the shoulders down away from the ears 
  • Inhale to lift the knees to hover above the ground, no more than six inches
  • Exhale to lower the knees to tap or hover directly above the ground 
  • Repeat five to 20 times on each side
  • Option: Hold the last rep for eight to 10 breaths 

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the core and quadriceps muscles
6. Donkey Kicks (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

6. Donkey Kicks

Instructions:

  • Begin with the knees lifted no more than six inches off the ground, as shown in the previous pose
  • Inhale to bend the right leg to 90 degrees and lift the thigh to about parallel to the ground, as shown in the photo
  • Keep the toes flexing back so that the sole of the foot is facing the sky 
  • Lower the leg back to it’s starting position 
  • Repeat on other side, switching between one rep per side
  • Repeat five to 25 times on each side
  • Option: Hold the last rep on each side for eight to 10 breaths 

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the shoulders, core, glutes and quadriceps muscles
7. Downward Facing Dog with One Leg Lifted (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

7. Downward Facing Dog with One Leg Lifted

Instructions

  • Begin on hands and knees
  • Tuck the toes, lift the knees off the ground and straighten the legs until you are in an inverted “V” position known as Downward Facing Dog
  • Lift one leg and reach through the toes
  • Keep the hips square to the mat
  • Stretch the lifted leg toward the sky
  • Hold for eight to 15 breaths 

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the triceps, shoulders, back and leg muscles 
8. Downward Facing Dog, cross-diagonal balance (Photo/ Colleen O’Neil)

8. Downward Facing Dog, cross-diagonal balance

Instructions"

  • Begin in Downward Facing Dog
  • Lift the right leg while keeping the hips square to the mat
  • Keep the hips square to the mat
  • Key for balancing: Spin the heel of the grounded foot in toward the midline at about a 45 degree angle so that the toes spin out slightly
  • Lift the left arm along the side
  • Press strongly into the right hand while drawing the shoulders down away from the ears 
  • Hold for eight to 15 breaths 
  • Switch sides
  • Repeat for one to 10 reps
  • Note: The first seven poses in this series are preparation for this pose, which can be quite challenging 

Benefits:

  • Strengthens the arms, shoulders, back, core and leg muscles 

More on Yoga for Runners:

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Brynn Cunningham
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Trail runner, ultrarunner, white water boater, cyclist (mostly MTB), swimmer, backcountry skier, yogi, mom and writer. www.inhaleexhalerun.com

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