Standing Core Exercises for Runners

If you don't like crunches and planks, there are plenty of other ways to strengthen and sculpt your core, without having to get down on the ground. 

Standing Core Exercises for Runners


Beyond building strength in your abs, lower back, and obliques, the benefits of standing core exercises are tremendous. You'll engage more muscles, burn more calories, and work more on posture and balance than you would if you were doing floor exercises. Plus, you don't need a mat or any other equipment for most of these exercises, so you can do them at home or outside, right after you finish a run.

What to do: Try to incorporate the exercises in this article into your workout routine 2-3 times a week. The whole circuit should only take about 15-20 minutes, but it will make a big difference in your running performance and form.

Standing Bicycle Crunches

Bruce Ayres/The Image BankGetty

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet together, knees slightly bent, and your hands behind head.
  2. Pull your abs in tight and lift your left knee up as your right shoulder rotates towards knee
  3. Try to touch your right elbow to your left knee.
  4. Return left leg and right arm to the starting position and repeat move with right knee and left arm.
  5. Alternate sides until you reach the recommended number of reps.

How many: Do 3 sets of 20 reps on each side.

Side Kick


This move may not look like a traditional abs exercise, but your obliques and abs will be working hard to balance your body and lift and extend your leg.

How to do it:

  1. Stand with arms bent, hands in fists by your chin.
  2. Shift your weight to your right foot.
  3. Bend your left knee, flexing your foot, and lift your left leg up to hip height.
  4. Extend your left leg out to the side, as if pushing something away from your body with your heel.
  5. Bend your knee back in to complete the rep. If possible, try to complete recommended repetitions without lowering your leg in between.

Modified exercise: If this move is too difficult, try lowering your leg for the kick or holding onto a chair or wall with your right hand to help keep your balance.

How many: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions on each leg, switching sides after each set. As you progress, you can increase to 15 repetitions.

Knee Lift With Twist


How to do it:

  1. Stand with your feet hip-width apart and hold your arms up in front of your chest, like a boxing stance. 
  2. Using your obliques to drive the movement, twist your upper body to the right. Keep your hips and legs facing forward.
  3. As you rotate to the right, raise your right knee. 
  4. Lower your right leg and then twist to the left, while raising your left knee.

How many: Do 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.

Single Leg Squats

one leg squat

Regular squats really work your abs (and glutes), but this single-leg move makes them work even harder to stabilize your body.

How to do it:

  1. Stand on your right leg, left knee bent and foot lifted off the ground.
  2. Bend your right knee and squat down, hinging forward at your hips.
  3. Stick your left leg straight out to help you keep your balance. 
  4. Return to starting position by fully extending your right leg.

How many: Do 3 sets of 10 repetitions on both legs.

Standing Lunge With Twist

standing lunge with twist
James Carroll/Getty

This exercise works your core and lower body, so you really get a lot of bang for your buck. If you don't have a medicine ball, you can use a dumbbell.

How to do it:

  1. While holding a medium medicine ball (or medium dumbbell) in your hands, step forward with your right foot into a lunge position.
  2. Keep your front knee at a 90-degree angle and make sure that it doesn't go past your toes.
  3. Stay in the lunge position, contract your abs and rotate your torso to your right side.
  4. Make sure your arms and the medicine ball turn with your torso.
  5. Rotate back to the center as you return to the standing position and bring your arms back in front of you.
  6. Repeat steps 1-5 on the left side.

How many: Do 3 sets of 8-10 reps on each side.

Windmill Exercise

windmill exercise
Stanton j Stephens/Getty

This is a full-body exercise, but it will really tone your obliques (love handles) and stretch your torso.

How to do it:

  1. You can first try this exercise with no weight. Once that becomes easy, try using a 5-pound dumbbell or a 4-kilogram kettleball.
  2. Start in an upright position, with your feet slightly wider than hip distance apart.
  3. While holding the dumbbell or kettleball in your right hand, raise your right arm above your head. Turn your head so you're looking up at the weight.
  4. Keep the weight balanced up in the air and bend at the waist.
  5. Reach down with your left hand and touch the ground before returning to the standing position.
  6. Repeat for 8-10 reps and then switch sides.

How many: Do three sets of 8-10 reps on each side.

Front Kick Exercise

front kick exercise
Urs Kuester/The Image Bank/Getty

This move will work your lower abs and hip flexors as they help balance your body and lift and extend your leg. 

How to do it:

  1. Stand with your arms at your sides, elbows bent, and feet hip-width apart.
  2. Make fists with your hands and bring them up in front of your chin, like a boxing stance. Your arms should be up in this position during the entire move.
  3. Shift your weight to your right foot to prepare to kick your left leg.
  4. Lift your left knee toward the ceiling. 
  5. Extend your left knee to straighten your leg, while flexing your foot.
  6. Bend your knee again, while bringing your leg back toward you. 
  7. Return your foot to the floor. Alternate legs after each kick.

How many: Do 3 sets of 10 reps on each side.

More Strengthening for Runners: