An avid runner with a marathon personal best of 2:46 set in Boston, physical therapist Steve Vighetti, MPT, MTC, FAAOMPT, CSCS, is a faculty member who teaches Running Rehabilitation continuing education seminars and in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program. He also works with runners and other athletes at his practice in St. Augustine, Florida.
For recreational runners, lower-back pain after running is a common complaint that can be attributed to core dysfunction in many ways. Our core not only moves our trunk in all directions, but more importantly, provides a stable base for our leg muscles to move our legs. Without that solid base, our legs become less efficient at propelling our body forward. However, there are several core exercises runners can do to help prevent this pain.
What Causes Back Pain from Running?
For example, the culprit in many running-related injuries is weakness of the outside hip muscles. When we are standing on our right leg, it is the right outside hip muscles that prevent our pelvis from dipping down too far on the left side. If they are weak, then our left pelvis dips down excessively setting the runner up for a host of leg injuries as well as low-back pain that results from excessive side bending over the stance leg. This is called a compensated Trendelenburg gait.
Another example of how core muscle weakness can contribute to low-back pain is in their ability to withstand the forces of hitting the ground an average of 1,500 times each mile. Every time your foot hits the ground while running, you hit the ground with a force approximately 2 ½ times your body weight.
Your core must be ready to support the body and absorb those forces by acting much like the shocks on cars. We know when we need new shocks because we can feel every bump in the road. The shocks no longer can absorb the road bumps and we feel the effects. If our core is weak, those forces go straight to the joints in our legs and our low back instead of being absorbed by the muscles. The constant pounding can lead to pain and injury.
Core Exercises for Runners
It’s not as bad as it sounds though, because our body was made to be used. If our core muscles are strong enough to handle running and you have good running form, then injury prevalence decreases.
Below are some simple core workouts for runners. Aim for 30 seconds for each core strengthening exercise and progress up to 1-2 minutes each.
1. Forearm planks
This exercise focuses on the transverse abdominis. To do this core exercise, assume the push-up position but instead of putting our weight on your hands, put your weight on your forearms. Make sure your back is straight.
2. Side planks
Similar to the exercise above except on your side. Rest your feet on top of each other and put your weight on one forearm. Keep your hips above ground for the duration of the exercise and then switch. This exercise has an emphasis on the transverse abdominis as well as the obliques.
To do this core exercise, lay on your belly and raise both arms and legs.
4. Spidermans for obliques
For this exercise, start in the push-up position and bring your left knee to the outside of the opposite (right) elbow. Repeat this motion with the other side.
5. Bridge walkouts
Lie on your back and bend your knees. Then, lift your hips and squeeze your glutes (as shone in the picture below). From this position, walk your feet out into a V shape. Keeping your hips up, continue until your legs are extended and then walk them back in. That’s one rep. Repeat this cycle for the duration of your exercise.
6. Mountain climbers
Similar to the Spiderman core exercise, start in a plank position and pull your right knee to your chest. Then, quickly switch and pull your left knee into your chest. Repeat this cycle for the duration of the exercises. Remember to keep your back straight.
It is important to perform this core exercise routine each day but not before you run. You want your core as strong as possible for your running activity.
Just remember that you have four sides to your core—front, back, left, and right. Make sure that when you choose your core strengthening exercises, you target all four sides in your exercise selection.