The lower back is an integral muscle in the core and having a strong lower back and core contributes greatly to being able to maintain proper form over long running distances. Having a strong lower back also eases the shock the back muscles absorb with each step during a run and can help eliminate possible pain as a result of consistent running. I feel as though many of the core muscles I have always worked are the various abdomen and oblique muscles and I often neglect the lower back as part of the core unit. In my new strength training regimen, I have an entire set of exercises that work the lower back and surrounding muscles and though I feel sore from finally working that area, it’s a good pain and I imagine will pay off in the long run.
In addition to strengthening the lower back muscles and training them to be a support group for the rest of the core, doing regular back exercises and stretches will help improve posture. I sit in a chair in front of the computer most of the day and I love to slouch. I find it comfortable but I am very aware of how bad it is for me and I’m sure it’s not the most attractive look either. It also concerns me a little that it is a chore for me to sit up straight for extended periods of time. If I can’t simply sit straight in a chair, how am I supposed to run more marathons with any kind of good form?
Hopefully by doing the following back exercises (and a few variations of them here and there) on a regular basis, I will look like a professional in front of my computer and more importantly, on the trails! The following exercises are from SELF Magazine and Runner’s World and I do 3 sets of 10-12 reps each on the day that I am not working my legs or arms.
Works deep abs and lower back
Start facedown on the floor, with your arms and legs extended out front. Raise your head, your left arm, and right leg about five inches off the floor. Hold for three counts, then lower. Repeat with your right arm and left leg. I do the “make it harder” option by lifting arms and legs at the same time. Sometimes I do the pilates variation of this, also called swimming or leg lifts.
Works transversus abdominis and lower back
Begin in plank position propped up on your forearms with elbows under your shoulders, knees and feet together. Hold for 10 seconds. Raise your right leg a few inches, keeping the rest of the body still. Lower and repeat with your left leg. I try to make this harder by raising my leg and then swinging it slowly out to the side. It’s hard! The variation of this which is great for the core is keeping your legs stable and lifting your arm and raising it so your forearm is parallel to the floor, lower, and switch arms. Very hard!
Works shoulders, arms, back, abs
Kneel with a weight in left hand, arm down. Bend forward, placing right hand on ground directly below shoulder; extend right leg to side. Bend left elbow 90 degrees, palm in. Maintain tripod as you extend left arm behind you. I use an 8-10lb. weight for this exercise.
Works shoulders, triceps, back
Stand with feet together, knees bent, a 8-10lb. dumbbell in each hand. Bend at hips until back is flat, arms down, palms in. Bring weights up to ribs and point elbows out to sides at shoulder level so arms form a 90-degree angle and palms are facing behind you. Extend arms out to sides, then lower down to start.
These back exercises are a good start to building a stronger core but in order for them to be effective it will be important to do them consistently and in addition to movements that strengthen and stretch all the surrounding muscles. Here’s to sitting, and running, with better posture!