More than half of all runners are injured in any given year, and almost 90 percent will experience some type of running-related injury in their lifetime.
With those odds, it’s pretty tough to avoid getting hurt sooner or later, but you can decrease your chances by being proactive about injury prevention. This means addressing anatomical imbalances (through things like stretching and strength training) before they become symptomatic (i.e. injuries).
I learned this firsthand after experiencing some pain in my lower back after long runs. It took a skilled massage therapist to notice that, while I do regular full-body strength training, I have some work to do in that particular area.
You see, we’re only as strong as our weakest link. And while runners focus most of our time on building heart and leg strength, we’re remiss to dismiss the core.
Not only is a strong midsection essential for more stable, efficient and powerful running (this article from Bodybuilding.com explains it well), but it’s also an effective insurance policy against future injury.
Runner’s World does an excellent job of illustrating how your core supports various movements in this piece, but I also wanted to share a few moves that I’ll be adding to my weekly workouts to help build stronger lower back muscles…not just for my long runs, but for the long run.
Lower-Back Builder #1: Superman
Works: Back extensors, which run on either side of the spine, as well as the glutes
- Lie face-down on the floor with your arms and legs extended and neck in a neutral position (i.e. eyes on the floor).
- Keeping limbs straight, simultaneously lift your arms and legs until they are several inches off the floor.
- Hold for two to five seconds and lower back down to complete one.
- Do three sets of 12 reps.
Lower-Back Builder #2: Donkey Kicks
Works: Glutes and lower back
- On all fours (with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips), extend your right leg up and back, toward the ceiling.
- Continue lifting and lowering your leg to its starting position, keeping your butt and legs engaged.
- Do 20-30 reps on each side.
Lower-Back Builder #3: Dead Lifts
Works: Everything from lower back (erector spinae), gluteus maximus and hamstrings to quadriceps and other stabilizing muscles
- You’ll need a barbell for this one! Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and balls of feet under bar.
- Squat (thighs should be parallel to floor; legs at a 90-degree angle) and grasp the bar with your hands slightly more than shoulder width apart, outside of your legs.
- Look forward, tighten abs and slowly straighten your legs, which will allow you to lift the bar – straight up vertically, close to your body.
- Come to a standing position with upright posture and shoulders pulled back. Allow the bar to hang in front of your hips; do not try to lift it any higher.
- Keeping your back straight, return the bar to the starting position in a controlled manner. Push your butt out and back, as if you are going to sit down in a chair, and keep your head up.
- Do two sets of 12.
Bonus Move! The Clam
Works: Gluteus medius (the culprit in chronic, recurring conditions such as Runner’s Knee, Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome, Achilles issues and low back pain, to name a few!)
- Lying on your side, bend your knees so that your legs form a 90-degree angle in front of you, hips in line with shoulders.
- Keeping the top leg bent, slowly lift your knee to the ceiling while keeping your feet together and bottom leg stable.
- Do two sets of 20 reps on each side.
Disclaimer: Although I am a former ACE-certified personal trainer, you should consult a physician before starting any exercise program or diet plan. If you choose to do any of the workouts featured on this website, you do so at your own risk.