Low back pain…it’s the worst. Most runners experience it at some point or another. You picked something heavy up incorrectly, you spend 8 hours of your day in a chair, or maybe it’s the effect of some issues in your running form. Bottom line, you don’t have to live with lower back pain when running. Strength training, correcting poor posture, and working on mobility are all ways to get back to pain-free running. Read on to understand how weak and tight muscles contribute to your pain and follow our tips to help shore up those trouble areas.
It’s worth mentioning that running injuries don’t usually come out of nowhere. If you’re experiencing lower back pain while running, chances are you’ve got some gaps in your training. Perhaps you’ve had less time lately for all your workouts so you’ve just been running and have skipped any cross-training. Or maybe after a run you just jump in the car and head home, skipping your cooldown and post-run mobility.
Don’t get down on yourself. It’s a simple process to shore up those gaps with a little strength and mobility work. With one of our favorite core exercises and a dynamic mobility drill you’ll have two go-to moves that are easy to complete, whether at the trailhead, park, or your living room.
Please remember that we’re online coaches, not online doctors. If you’re experiencing intense back pain, nerve pain such as sciatica,, or other symptoms beyond those described in this article, please seek out medical advice or physical therapy for qualified help.
One common culprit of a running back injury is weakness through the core muscles, more specifically the deep stabilizer muscles. These muscles are responsible for keeping us upright and balanced with minimal wobble side-to-side or back-and-forth, and have attachment points throughout the spine and pelvis.
A lot of us tend to “default” to an overextended, mildly arched low back, which causes the core to turn off, leaving the low spine to absorb each step of impact as you run. Lessening this arch and finding a more neutral spine position is critical if you’re going to keep running long term and injury-free.
To find that neutral spine position, start with your glutes.
Check out our article on hip posture and neutral pelvis to learn even more.
As you work through the following movements, keep the sensation of a neutral pelvis and engaged glutes in mind. That posture will help you get the most of the two drills, which will, in turn, improve your running.
This drill will put another variation on the butt squeeze test. The purpose of this drill is to turn on those deep abdominal muscles, which support and protect your spine from defaulting to a dangerous position. Additionally, the extra help from your core will take some of the load off the lower back muscles, which, if left to absorb the impact of running on its own, can easily lead to repetitive stress and injury.
Is this feeling stable?
Great, let’s look at a few ways to take it up a notch:
The only rule is that your low back MUST, MUST, MUST stay glued to the ground! This will keep your lower back safe and stable by avoiding hyperextension and compression in the spine.
If you’re looking for even more core movements, here are two more exercises guaranteed to put you to work.
The other part of the puzzle is your hips! No doubt they are tight and putting extra pressure and strain on your spine. It’s pretty common these days that when you aren’t running or working out, you’re sitting. Sitting in your car, at your desk, on your couch…hey, us, too sometimes.
Let’s think about what that means.
Since your hip flexors, the muscles at the front of your hips, spend most of their day in a shortened position, they default to that position even when standing. When you go for a run and are in an upright, lengthened out position, the low back feels overridden and yanked by them. The result: your low back ends up working extra hard to counteract the pull from the front of the hips.
Enter your chronic low back pain and thus, your running back injury.
So, let’s work on your hip mobility up by targeting the hip flexors. Instead of a static stretch where you just hold a position without moving, this is a dynamic mobility drill. Running requires movement through the hips, not a static position. So we’ll replicate that movement here with some rotation and reaching.
Here are a few ways to increase the demand:
Ultimately, you want to create a dynamic movement that counteracts the seated position we spend so much time in.
Including these two exercises in your running training will definitely help in both rehabbing AND preventing running back injury!
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