Low back pain does not choose victims. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, up to 80% of people will experience spinal pain at some point in their life. This suggests that runners, like other athletes, are not immune to back pain either. A paper published in the January issue of the Journal of Biomechanics suggests that deep core weakness may be one cause of the problem.
Scientists asked 80 runners without lower back pain to run on a floor with sensors embedded in it to measure the pressure under their feet while running. The runners themselves were equipped with special sensors, which made it possible to register the movement of various parts of the body during a run.
Based on the results of the measurements, the scientists created a computer model of each runner, which allowed them to simulate the “shutdown” of certain muscles and watch how other parts of the body compensate for this. They found that turning off the deep core muscles – those that stabilize the spine – changed the load on the lumbar spine.
“Because we were recording a sharp increase in tangential load (tangential force), weakness in the deep stabilizing muscles of the spine could be a risk factor for low back pain,” said senior study leader Ajit Chudhary, MD, at the American College of Sports Medicine .
But this is only a theory so far, says professional runner coach Greg McMillan. “We cannot be completely certain that spinal pain is due to weakening of these muscles,” he says, adding that low back pain is no more common in runners than in the general population.
And yet he agrees that a stable, strong core is essential for runners – and most of them devote time to specific core workouts. “The more developed your core muscles are, the easier it is for you to maintain proper body position while running,” he explains. – And this is a giant step towards preventing injuries and boosting athletic performance. Train your core muscles and you will feel a big difference. ”
While science cannot offer a selection of the best exercises for strengthening deep core muscles in runners, Ajit Choudhary and Greg McMillan recommend any exercise that requires core stabilization. For example, various variations on the plank theme, the dead beetle exercise, and even the weighted squat.
Try these 5 exercises from Greg McMillan’s runner core training program. He advises his subjects to train their core muscles 1-3 times a week. (If you have back pain, or if lower back pain has bothered you before, be sure to consult with your doctor or physical therapist before starting a new exercise program.)
Classic straight plank
Starting position – as for push-ups from the floor, but with support on the forearms, not on the hands. The body is elongated in a straight line from crown to heels. Tighten your core muscles and hold the plank for 10 seconds. Do 3 sets, resting 10 seconds in between. Gradually increase the time until you end up doing 3 sets of 45 seconds each.
Lie on your side with support on your forearm and thigh. You can put your heel in front of the toe of your other foot, or you can put one foot on top of the other to make the task a little more difficult. Raise your hip and stretch into a string so that your body forms a straight line from head to ankles. Extend your free hand straight up. Hold the bar for 10 seconds. Don’t let your pelvis roll forward or backward. Do 3 sets, resting 10 seconds in between. Repeat on the opposite side. Gradually increase the time to complete 3 sets of 45 seconds each.
Lie on your back. Place your hands slightly under the pelvis, raise your straight legs at an angle of 90 degrees. Pull in your stomach, press your lower back to the floor, slowly lower your legs down. As soon as you feel that your lower back begins to bend, lift your legs back to an upright position. Do 10 reps. Gradually increase the load to do 20 reps over time. Rest for 1-2 minutes after this exercise.
Lie on your back. Spread your arms to the sides, palms down, so that the body takes the shape of the letter T. Raise your straight legs up at an angle of 90 degrees, draw in your stomach, press your lower back to the floor. Lower your legs to the right or left. When they touch the ground, reverse direction and lower your feet to the opposite side. This is 1 rep, do 5. Gradually increase the load until you reach 15 reps.
Place the fitball in a doorway or near a wall that will serve as your fulcrum. Climb the ball carefully so that you can kneel on it. When you are stable, release your arms and balance without support. Try to hold out for 5 seconds. Gradually build up your time until you end up standing unsupported for 15 seconds.