- Can a Treadmill Cause Back Pain?
- Causes of back pain
- How To Avoid Injury When Using A Treadmill
- 5 Workouts To Avoid With Lower Back Pain, Because We Know The Struggle Is Real
- 1. Uphill Treadmill Trudges
- 2. Crunches On Crunches On Crunches
- 3. Lifting Weights Above Your Head
- 4. Certain Yoga Poses
- 5. Any Workout That Involves Burpees
- Low Back Pain: A Misfire in the System
- Low Back Pain Prevention: Exercises and Form Cues
- Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Core Stability
- Which Exercises Can Help?
- Consistency is Key
- Staying Mobile
- Stretches for the Back
- The Right Footwear
- How To Fix Your Running Back Injury
- Fixing lower back pain: Strengthen The Front Body
- Fixing lower back pain: Open Up Those Hips!
- Symptoms, Causes and Prevention For Runners With Lower Back Pain
- 1. Plank
- 2. Stability Ball Back Extension
- 3. Stability Ball Pike
- 4. Stability Ball Reverse Leg Raise
- 5. Glute Bridge
- 6. Locust Pose
- What to Do If You Have Lower-Back Pain from Running
- The Surprising Reason Your Lower Back Hurts When You Run
- 7 Lower Back Stretches to Combat Tightness and Pain
- Forward Fold
- Seated Forward Fold
- Child’s Pose
- Line Twist
- Supine Twist
- Pigeon Pose on Your Back
- Cat/Cow Poses
Can a Treadmill Cause Back Pain?
A treadmill is often at the forefront in a lot of people’s minds for the best cardio equipment. It’s usually the pillar of cardio – it’s running, after all! Well, like any exercise, it’s not without its dangers. One of the most prominent risks of running is back pain, but how does a treadmill affect it?
We are of course advocates of the treadmill, and exercise in general, but not so much that we’ll risk people’s health for it. Having said that, there are some things you need to know about a treadmill and back pain, and we’re here to give you the information you need to keep you up and running.
Causes of back pain
First, it’s a good idea to look at what can cause a treadmill to give you back pain in the first place. It’s not the treadmill’s fault, and there are things that you need to know to keep yourself out of harm’s way in the first place if you wish to avoid it in the long run.
The first of these issues that can occur comes from over-exercising. It’s the same with any equipment you use, so it is essential to know how to protect yourself from it.
Over-exercising is easy to do, especially if you’re doing it from your own home. With that in mind, you need to make sure that you have a proper workout routine. You always need to be doing what’s best for your body if you’re going to be successful in your training. This will keep you safe!
Bad technique is another factor of a treadmill causing back pain. Believe it or not, running can have a very wide array of methods. It’s affected by a lot of different things, but you need to nail yours to reduce risk.
A lot of people put more pressure on different parts of their feet when they run. Your foot is what will hit the ground first, so there is potential for you to be too extreme in your movements. That’s one of the easiest ways to strain your back, from muscles to nerves, and over time, it can have a detrimental effect. Be careful!
Finally, almost definitely the biggest cause of back pain when running on a treadmill is having underlying conditions. You might not even know about them, but if you suffer from tight hamstrings, a trapped nerve or even just repetitive strain injury from something like work, you’re in danger.
Back problems are becoming more and more common in modern society. Even if you have a desk job and you spend 8 hours a day at your desk, you are at risk.
So now that you know what the causes of common back issues from a treadmill are, the next thing you need to know is how to avoid them. It’s easily done if you know your stuff. You’ll thank yourself for it in the long run, and it’ll help you get the most of your exercise!
One thing that often goes a little bit under the radar is using the correct running shoes. Now, everyone knows that you need them, but there are several different types!
You need to make sure that your shoes are the right fit for you (pun intended), and for your step. Like we said above, depending on where your foot is touching the floor first results in where you need to most padding. You really need to get the right ones for you and do your homework first!
Next up, the right treadmill is another complimentary factor to the point above. You need to make sure that your treadmill so in a good state with the proper shock absorbers. That protects everything from your ankles to your neck, and it’s going to be the biggest player in the risks of a treadmill. It’s even better than outdoor running because of the protection the shock absorbers offer you!
If your technique is one of the biggest causes of back issues, the solution is to correct it. Do whatever you need to make sure that your form is spot on. Otherwise, you’re always at risk.
The ideal running technique varies from person to person, but make sure you aren’t slamming your feet, going too fast, or leaning upright or backwards. You need a slight forward tilt for the best results.
Last but not at all least, we have recovery time. The time you take to recover is often the difference between progress and injury. With strength training, it’s often 48 hours between workouts, but cardio isn’t always the same.
Depending on how you use your treadmill, you need to give yourself at least a day between hard workouts like running or sprinting. Walking, however, is something that you can do daily. Find a good balance and stick to it. Sometimes a day off is better than another workout.
Overall, it isn’t the treadmill that is causing you back pain. The facilities that a treadmill offers are often even better for your back than running outdoors, because of the impact damage. Do what you need to keep yourself safe and then you can really make the most of your workout. You might even enjoy it! Rest, recovery and precaution never go amiss in any exercise.
Fancy Breaking A Sweat On A Treadmill At Home?
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If you experience dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or any other abnormal symptoms, stop the workout at once and consult a physician or doctor immediately.
How To Avoid Injury When Using A Treadmill
A treadmill is great for exercising, especially for people who cannot get outside to walk or run easily. Running on a treadmill is not the same as running on the road, and people can injure themselves if they don’t recognize the differences and make sure they are safe. Here are some ways to avoid injury while using a treadmill.
See Our Video Explanation for How To Avoid Injury When Using A Treadmill
Having good posture is essential for proper muscle conditioning. It is important for the body to be in a natural position and the joints should not be overextended or stressed more than they have to be. A 2% incline helps the treadmill mimic the outside ground and have the same feel as the outdoors. Having the treadmill set on a very flat setting is not good for the feet or legs.
Philip Riches, a Scottish expert on biomechanics, conducted research and discovered that running on a treadmill with no incline causes the exerciser to run with their knees very straight, rather than naturally soft and slightly bent. This motion can cause pain and muscle strain in the knees and feet. The knees cannot absorb shock properly when they are too straight. He recommends using a treadmill with no motor for a more natural running experience.
Leaning forward to hold on to the bar at the front of the treadmill can throw off an exerciser’s balance. This often causes stumbling and falling as the walker or runner picks up speed.
It’s a good idea for exercisers to rotate their pelvis with each stride. Letting your hip be pulled back with your leg allows for rotation of the entire lower body along the vertical axis. The body’s rotation absorbs most of the shock of each foot hitting the belt on the treadmill.
Anyone who runs on a treadmill should make sure that their stride is quick and short. Exercisers should lift their feet to minimize the force of impact transferred to their legs by the treadmill’s moving belt.
Listen To Your Body
People who join a gym or buy a treadmill for sale for their home are often eager to lose weight or get into better shape. This enthusiasm often causes the exerciser to push their body further than they should and can cause strained muscles or shin splints. It is important for everyone who exercises to start slow and increase their speed no more than 15% each week so that their body gradually gets used to working out. Injuries are often caused or exacerbated by increasing speed or incline on the treadmill too quickly and exercisers should stop their routine and rest for a day if their body doesn’t feel right.
Wear Proper Shoes
Good quality running shoes can be expensive, but they are a necessary investment for working out. Important things to remember when buying running shoes are:
*Proper fit – shoes must fit properly to help prevent injury to the feet.
*Absorb Shock – regular tennis shoes are usually not designed for heavy exercise. They should absorb shock so that the muscles and joints of the knees and feet have to absorb less impact.
*Not Worn Out – running shoes wear out quickly and should be replaced after being worn for 300-500 miles.
*Designed for Running – shoes that are designed for running are lighter and more supportive than regular tennis shoes.
Watch the Incline
Walking uphill on a treadmill for long periods of time can cause ankle pain and injuries because the ankle is being repeatedly over flexed. The ankle should be properly supported and additional strength training exercises may be needed if the ankle muscles are weak. All exercisers should talk to their doctor about any injuries they experience while walking or running.
Warm Up and Cool Down
Cold muscles lack flexibility and blood flow, so it is important to warm them up before putting stress on them through exercise. A good warm up may begin by walking slowly for 5-10 minutes and then performing static stretches and range of motion exercises.
Cooling down the muscles is an important part of injury prevention because muscles tighten quickly if activity suddenly stops. To effectively cool down their muscles, exercisers should run or walk at a slower pace for the last 10% to 15% of their time on the treadmill. They should also stretch their hips, legs and lower back.
Treadmill related injuries are often caused by an exerciser that forgets to warm up and cool down their muscles.
Running on a Treadmill
Using a treadmill isn’t the same as running on a track, but it can be a great alternative for people who are concerned about their physical safety or live in a place where the weather is bad. Anyone who starts an exercise program must keep any muscle or other health issues in mind and tailor the workout to fit their body. Even Eric Heiden, a five time Olympic gold medalist believes that treadmills are great for indoor workouts. He says that they offer stride control and are low impact.
It’s important for each person to listen to their body and do a workout that works for them and doesn’t cause pain or injury.
5 Workouts To Avoid With Lower Back Pain, Because We Know The Struggle Is Real
You know the feeling: You’re halfway through a challenging workout, you kind of want to submit to the sweet release of death in a puddle of your own sweat, but you’re hanging on because you’re actually really proud of yourself for #KillingIt. Then suddenly, your lower back feels like a giant rhinoceros plopped his big butt down on top of you. Seriously though, an aching lower back is the worst, and it can be so debilitating as you go about the rest of your day, which is why it’s crucial to know which workouts to avoid with lower back pain so you don’t fuel the fire any further.
According to the American Chiropractic Association, over 30 million Americans struggle with lower back pain on the reg, so yeah, you are far from alone on this one, fam. Some cases can be more serious than others (such as osteoporosis, or a major injury to the lower back), but oftentimes, lower back pain is caused by something as mundane as sitting hunched over a desk for hours on end. Perhaps that rings a bell? For many, it totally does, and the technical name for the pain is “extension syndrome.”
While the right kind of movement can be incredibly therapeutic and healing to your lower back, the wrong workouts can easily turn an aching back into a full-on, throbbing disaster that leaves you couch-ridden for days. Here are five workouts you should probably avoid whenever your lower back is acting up.
1. Uphill Treadmill Trudges
I see you, walking on that treadmill incline, trying to make those #BootyGains. But, girl, this type of workout is doing no favors for your lower back, and the stress on your hammies can create an aggressive amount of strain in your lumbar region.
A good alternative here is to try the StairMaster instead of the treadmill. The use of your quadriceps and hip girdle muscles will protect your spine, and your lower back will thank you for it.
2. Crunches On Crunches On Crunches
If you suffer from chronic lower back pain, it’s probably in your best interest to say goodbye to crunches in your workout. (TBH, I’m sure you’re not that sad to see them go.)
The momentum required to go from chillin’ on the floor to an upright position tends to put too much of a strain on your lower back, which can potentially lead to even more severe pain than you were experiencing before.
However, it’s important to keep in mind here that your back troubles could actually be caused by a weak core, so don’t think you should skip out on ab workouts altogether. Instead of crunches, try incorporating loads of plank variations into your routine to strengthen your abdominals and support your spine.
3. Lifting Weights Above Your Head
I know you might love working out that upper bod (anyone else think toned arms and shoulders are sexy AF?), but doing so could be compromising your lower back more than you realize.
Lifting weights over your head can lead to compression in your spine, causing a major flare-up in your already achy symptoms.
Try doing moves that stay below the head, like bicep curls and lateral raises. Anything that stays level with your heart will let you continue with your fitness goals, without aggravating your pissed off lumbar region.
4. Certain Yoga Poses
Yoga is honestly an incredible remedy for lower back pain, but there are some moves you’ll want to avoid like the plague if your aches are acting up.
Break up with forward folding and intense backbends for the time being, as they’ll only aggravate your symptoms. Instead, try a supine hamstring stretch to open up tight hammies and release tension in your lower back.
5. Any Workout That Involves Burpees
Burpees shouldn’t be making an appearance in your fitness routine if you’re dealing with an achy back. (First crunches, now burpees? Don’t you love me right now?)
If you’re searching for a HIIT replacement for this body-burning move, you can try performing high-speed intervals on the elliptical as an alternative.
Low back pain is the most common physical ailment in the world. The majority of people will experience a low back pain episode at some point in their lives, often repetitively.
It is equally common among runners, though many runners tend to brush off low back stiffness and pain as part of the game, until it becomes debilitating. I, myself, have struggled with back pain for the better part of three years, until just recently. In retrospect, all of my low back pain was due to mechanical inefficiencies, as well as the unique demands of mountain trail running. But since reforming my stride, my back pain is almost completely gone.
Below are some critical strategies to limit low back stress and pain during running.
Discussing the causes of low back pain in runners requires a review of my Four Concepts of Efficient Running Mechanics:
- Forward Trunk Engagement Through a Hip Hinge;
- The Short and Long Hip Pattern;
- Strong Arm Swing; and
- The Pawback.
Within this construct of efficient running is this fundamental mechanical theory:
- Flexion-dominant trunk stability
- Extension-dominant hip mobility
What that means is: to efficiently move forward, our trunk must be forward-oriented. This comes from hip flexion, but core stability is required to keep us trending forward without falling backwards. This could be why the vast majority of ‘core stability’ exercises deal with the anterior abdominal muscles.
At the same time, the way we propel is through hip mobility. The hips drive upward and downward, but the bulk of our propulsion in a gravity-dependent world comes from hip extension. Pushing off powerfully from the gluteal muscles is the central motor to fast, powerful, and efficient running.
That said, strong, efficient running requires this balance: flexion-dominant stability of the trunk, which provides a solid platform for powerful hip extension beneath and behind us.
The author demonstrating a trunk-forward stability with hip-extension push off equal to the trunk. All photos: Joe Uhan
It is when we lose this balance that problems arise, often in the low back and pelvis.
Low Back Pain: A Misfire in the System
When either hip mobility or trunk stability is lost, so is efficiency. With the former, if the hip cannot extend–either due to tightness or poor positioning–’the buck is passed’ onto the low back. For the latter, if the trunk does not stay stable, the hips lose the ability to powerfully push, and excessive mobility occurs at the trunk.
Efficient running requires the hip extend to the level of the trunk. That is all. Yet, few of us–including runners–have that flexibility. Excessive sitting–the cornerstone of Western civilization–is likely the culprit, where our hips are stuck in a flexed position for hours at a time each day.
The hip-flexor muscles–the psoas, ilacus, and rectus femoris–all originate on the lumbar spine or pelvis, and insert onto the upper portion of the femur. They act to active flex the hip upward during running, but they also must passively relax to allow the thigh to extend. If the hip flexors become tight, any attempt to extend fully during the running gait will result in low back stress. Tight psoas muscles, especially, will pull on the lumbar spine–on which they’re connected–causing lumbar stiffness and possible low back pain.
On the other end, the core-stability system must keep the trunk stable so that the hips have a strong base for push off. When the trunk–namely the lumbar spine and pelvis–fails to stay stable during the push off, excessive motion tends to occur. With each stride–180 per minute–the lumbar and pelvic joints are being stressed. This is a prime generator of low back pain and degenerative stress.
If one has flexible hips and a strong core, it is still possible to have back pain. Since hip extension equal to the trunk is the prime job of the gluteal muscles, what happens if the trunk is completely upright?
Besides providing forward momentum, the vial importance of a hip-hinged forward trunk is that it gives the gluteals somewhere to go. A forward trunk creates a rearward, propulsive glute push off. But running too upright robs the hip extensors of a place to go. As a result, the body often compensates by extending through the lumbar spine.
The author, a year ago, running too upright, with excessive active lumbar extension in push off. This compensatory motion caused significant back pain for years. But once corrected (previous photo), back pain was abolished.
This is extremely stressful to the low back, as the body is actively recruiting lumbar muscles to propel, which creates significant joint stress and overuse of a muscle group intended to stabilize and lightly rotate–not propel.
Excessive Trunk Rotation: ‘The Swivel’
A central component of a strong arm swing is the transfer of power from arms to the legs–and/or a counter-balance to the legs–using the trunk as a conduit. Inefficiency in the arm swing can cause a hyper-rotation, a ‘swivel-effect,’ where the arms twist from side to side, rather than pumping forward and back. This can cause the trunk to excessively rotate, often concentrating the motion in the lumbar spine.
Again, this left-and-right twist that propagates 180 times per minute creates a potentially enormous stress to the low back, often resulting joint wear and tear, and low back pain.
In summary, low back pain can arise from:
- Tight hip flexors that fail to allow full hip extension, causing lumbar stress;
- Poor core stability, where the lumbar spine and pelvis fail to stay stable as the hip pushes off;
- Being too upright in the stride, resulting in compensatory extension from the low back; and/or
- Excessive trunk rotation due to an inefficient arm swing.
Low Back Pain Prevention: Exercises and Form Cues
Stretch The Hips!
The hip flexors must be flexible enough to allow hip extension equal to the trunk. A simple test of this involves lying on the edge of a table or bed and hugging one thigh tightly to the chest. The opposite upper leg should be able to remain fully level with the table, with the lower leg hanging close to 90 degrees.
This test, itself, is a stretch: passively hanging, or actively ‘pulling’ the leg toward the table and floor. This can be done for 30 to 60 seconds, for several reps, to improve hip-flexor mobility.
A great ‘on-the-go’ stretch, pre- and post-run, is what I call the ‘Split Hip Stretch.’ It involves putting a foot up on a step, bench, or any object two to three feet high.
The flexed leg should rest against the chest (with the knee behind to toes). The trailing leg is getting stretched by being slightly wide and fully extended. The stretch is created by actively squeezing the trailing leg’s glutes and quad muscles.
This exercise creates a combined flexion, extension, and abduction stretch for both hips, all the while protecting the low back from extension stress.
Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, for several reps, each side.
Split Hip Stretch
Trunk-Stability and Hip-Mobility Exercises
Practice trunk stability while extending the hips using these exercises:
All Fours Bent Knee Leg Extension
This exercise practices the ability to extend the hip on a stable trunk. Extend the bent-knee leg upward, careful to keep the low back and pelvis stable. The goal is to extend the thigh to the level of the trunk. However, only go as high as you can go without over-arching through the low back.
Hold three seconds or a single exhale. Alternate, 10 repetitions per side.
All Fours Bent Knee Leg Extension
Straight Leg Extension Plus Opposite Elbow
This exercises adds an opposite-elbow extension, working on arm coordination along with hip extension and trunk stability.
Extend the leg and opposite arm simultaneously. Hold three seconds or a single exhale. Do 10 repetitions in a row, per side.
Straight Leg Extension Plus Opposite Elbow
Plank Plus Leg Extension
This is an advanced strength exercise, combining an elbow plank with a straight-leg-extension lift.
Emphasis is on keeping the low back and pelvis stable, while the hip moves to a level equal to or just slightly higher than the level of the trunk.
Hold each extension three seconds or a single exhale. Alternate, 10 to 20 total repetitions.
Plank Plus Leg Extension
As covered in the August 2014 column, the Runner Deadlift exercise works hip-extension strength and mobility with a stable trunk. Practice this exercise as indicated.
Form Cues for Low Back Pain Prevention
The Hip Hinge
Maintaining neutral-forward-trunk momentum is the most important element of low back pain prevention. Besides preventing over-striding, a trunk-forward position allows the hips to extend without over-arching the low back. Keeping the trunk forward and neutral is vitally important during mountain trail running. Avoid backward leaning–and significant low back stress–by maintaining the hinged-hip position, even on steep downs!
Strong, Efficient Arm Swing
While a small amount of trunk rotation is ideal in an efficient stride, excessive ‘swivel’ of the trunk on the pelvis is stressful to the low back. Work on a strong forward and back arm swing where the elbows drive powerfully rearward. Efficient arm swing should create approximately an inch or so of trunk rotation in each direction, but no more. The exercises outlined in this column are useful in developing arm-swing efficiency.
Lumbar Stability in Extension
While lumbar extension and rotation can be stressful and pain producing, a lumbar-extended position is not only okay, but desirable. Neutral spine mechanics involve a moderate amount of extension curvature. This helps orient the pelvis and hips for optimal rearward hip push off.
However, it is excessive lumbar-extension motion that is stressful. Be careful that you are not allowing the low back to repetitively extend during the stride. While actively ‘tensing’ the abdominals during running is neither desirable or sustainable, some degree of stability in the low back is required to prevent this excess motion.
The stability exercises above will help train the brain to maintain this stability when running.
When in Doubt, Film It!
If you’re unsure if you’re adequately hip hinging, or stabilizing, have someone watch you run and give you feedback, or hold your camera phone to take a quick side-view video. This ubiquitous tool may be the most powerful way for runners to monitor their stride. Be sure the trunk is forward-oriented, and the low back stable. In the front or rear view, be sure there is only an inch or so of trunk rotation, with a strong forward and back arm swing.
We Walk How We Run
Be mindful of your walking form. The same inefficient habits–too stiff in the hips, too upright (or backward leaning), and too much arching or rotation can just as often occur when walking. Be sure to maintain a light, forward trunk and extend powerfully with your hips behind you, even when walking. Efficient walking begets efficient running!
Low back pain can put a damper on a lot of things, and, over time, it can jeopardize your running career. Take these steps to ensure you limit back stress, and maximize hip mobility and strength over the course of your run.
Call for Comments (from Meghan)
- Do you suffer from low back pain when you run? How long have you suffered and do you know what might be the mechanical cause of your pain?
- Have you addressed any of the running-form issues discussed in this article in your own running gait? If so, what issues did you previously have and how did you correct them?
Back pain is such a common problem. However, unless it is severe, running can really help. Sometimes just the energising movement of going for a run can be just what our body needs. After hours of sitting at a computer, or at the other end of the spectrum, standing for hours on end; the body craves variety of movement.
If it is lower back pain which is the issue, then it could be due to a tightness in the hamstrings, but if the pain is more in the mid back, then it could be due to tightness in the shoulder area. All parts of the body are linked, so it is important to look at the big picture. Here are a few pointers as to the best prevention methods and pain relieving techniques. With these top tips, there’s no reason why you can’t be heading for that next 5k, half marathon or even full marathon.
Core Stability is essential for a happy, injury free runner. See it as an integral part of your running training. Our core is where our body engine lives. If we have a strong mid section, then immediately our lower back feels better, which in turn increases good posture. We can liken our core to a trunk of a tree. If our trunk is strong, then everything benefits!
Which Exercises Can Help?
When performing strengthening and lengthening exercises, it is important to find a sequence which you enjoy and that will fit into your schedule. Pilates is a great way of strengthening the lower back and aligning the hips. Alignment of the hips is crucial, since so many injuries can stem from this problem, remembering again how the body is linked up. If you find self motivation to be a challenge, then why not find a good personal trainer. If you are based in London, we recommend Nordic Balance, they are highly trained and encouraging from beginners to elite runners.
Consistency is Key
One of the most important things in any runner’s life is consistency. Because of our ‘start, stop’ lifestyle – rushing to the train, standing squished like sardines, then sitting in an office for hours and then rushing to our next appointment – we can sometimes neglect the ‘back-up’ work needed to sustain our training programme. This back-up work is our daily stretching routine. It’s always worth visiting a good Physio or Osteopath who will look at your body structure and then put together a daily programme for you specifically.
Staying mobile is so helpful with keeping soreness at bay. The longer we sit at a desk or in a car, the more the muscles in our body shorten and tighten. There is a simple way to remedy this. Set an alarm clock to beep every half hour, then stop what you are doing and take a few minutes to gently walk around and stretch your back. Do some shoulder circles that will ease the tension in the upper back. It may sound inconsequential, but it really helps. By the time you head off for your evening run, you will already have accomplished some ‘back up’ work earlier in the day.
Stretches for the Back
Specific Lower Back Stretch Lift one knee to 45 degrees and place on a table at hip hight, keeping the standing leg straight. Lean forward from the hips, placing your hands on the table for support. You will feel the stretch in your hip joint. Hold for 1 minute. This is a great stretch to ease the tightness in your lower back. Repeat on both sides.
Specific Upper Back Stretch Sit on a chair, leaning forward,with your knees hip width apart and feet flat on the floor. Cross your arms and place each elbow on the outside of the opposite knee. Gently push your knees away from each other. (It only needs to be a small amount.) Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat by crossing your arms over. This is such a good way to ease out the neck and shoulders as well as the upper back. These two stretches were recommended by the wonderful Physio, Reza Daneshmand. They have been and still are invaluable to my training!
Lower and Upper Back Stretch Stand with your feet hip width apart, engaging your tummy muscles. Slowly and gently roll down to touch your toes. Start drawing your chin to chest and then vertebrae by vertebrae slowly roll down as far as you can comfortably go, and then reverse backup. This stretch feels great and eases the tension from your back and encourages flexibility.
The Right Footwear
Last but by no means least: make sure that you are wearing the correct footwear! Why not visit one of our shops to have a full Natural Gait Analysis. In addition, we can talk through your specific training needs.
This general information is not intended to diagnose any medical condition or to replace your healthcare professional. If you experience any pain or difficulty with the exercises or advice, stop and consult your healthcare provider.
For one-to-one advice, visit our expert in-store practitioners:
LONDON • EDINBURGH • CARDIFF
How To Fix Your Running Back Injury
Low back pain…the worst. We’ve ALL been there. You picked something heavy up incorrectly, you spend 8 hours of your day in a chair, or maybe you’re suffering from a running back injury.
Fixing lower back pain: Strengthen The Front Body
One common culprit of a running back injury is weakness through the core, more specifically the deep stabilizer muscles.
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.
Correcting this arch and finding a more neutral spinal position is critical if you’re going to keep running, without pain that is.
Let’s take a look at a simple core strengthening exercise we can do:
You’re simply going to lay on your back with your feet flat on the ground.
From here you’re going to peel the legs up to create a “table top” position, both legs bent at a 90 degree angle, knees directly over the hips. Head is resting on the ground.
The low back should be pressed securely into the ground. I shouldn’t be able to fit my hand under your low back…if I was there 🙂
Is this feeling stable?
Cool, let’s look at a few ways to take it up a notch:
1) Peel the head and shoulders off the ground, keeping arms into your sides but lifted 2 inches off the ground, palms up.
2) From here, you can raise the arms above your hips, perpendicular to the ground.
3) From here you can extend one leg, or one arm out in line with your ears, or both legs and/or both arms.
The only rule is that your low back MUST, MUST, MUST stay glued to the ground!
The whole purpose of this is to turn on those deep abdominal muscles, which support and protect your spine from defaulting to a dangerous position.
Start with holding your chosen position for 10 seconds, for 6 rounds total. Increase time as needed.
Fixing lower back pain: Open Up Those Hips!
The other part of the puzzle is your hips! No doubt they are tight and putting extra pressure and strain on your spine.
My guess is that when you AREN’T running, a lot of you are spending MANY hours a day seated…in your car, at your desk, on your couch.
Let’s think about what that means.
Since your hip flexors spend most of their day in a shortened position, the result is that when you do try to find an upright, lengthened out position for that hour or two of running, 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 open those hips up!
Start by standing neutral on two feet, pulling the ribs down and slightly tucking the pelvis to find a neutral spine.
From here just start finding some rotations side to side, twisting the upper body from the lower body.
You should start feeling a light stretch through the front of the hips.
From here go ahead and put your right leg back behind you, finding a shallow lunge position.
Continue rotating the upper body, side to side.
Here are a few ways to increase stretch from here:
1) Extend the arms to increase the range of motion, emphasizing the twist towards the right leg.
2) If that still feels okay, keep arms extended (but now the right arm is raised high, while the left arm is extended low) and now emphasize the twist toward the other (left) leg.
3) From here, your goal is to find an increasingly larger range of twist over your left side, trying to reach that right glute of the extended back leg, then that hamstring, then the knee, then the ankle…you get the idea.
The goal here is to create a dynamic stretch that counteracts the seated position we spend so much time in.
Accumulate up to 30 twists per side, starting from a small range of motion and increasing from there.
Including these two exercises in your running workout plan will definitely help in both-curing AND preventing running back injury!
And for sticking with us to the end…go ahead and take a look at this awesome injury prevention series we put together. In these videos, we hit on some super common running injuries and give you our best methods for treatment & prevention. Get it all here!
Symptoms, Causes and Prevention For Runners With Lower Back Pain
For runners, back pain is usually caused by weakness, inflexibility and the inactivity of surrounding muscles. For example, if you know you have a weak gluteus medius and tight hamstrings, other muscles around the spine may be forced to pick up the workload. As the miles start to multiply, the added stress to smaller muscle groups can cause the back to spasm, signaling the need for a break.
Another common cause of muscular back pain for runners is hours of inactivity. For anyone with an office job who commonly spends long hours sitting at a desk throughout the day, poor posture and inactivity of core muscles like the gluteus maximus and medius could be the culprit. This can lead to inflexible hip flexors and hamstrings and a lack of core stability. As a result, when you go for a run, these core muscles that have been asleep for most of the day might have a hard time waking up. This can place more stress on the spine and the surrounding muscles for support during your workout.
Inflexibility of the hip flexors and hamstrings can also cause anterior or posterior pelvic tilt (forward or backward rotation), causing the lower part of the spine to flex in one direction or the other. Maintaining a neutral spine with good posture is key for hours spent at your desk and while you’re training, but to do so you’ll need to correct any weakness issues of the core muscle groups surrounding the hips and spine.
TREATMENT AND PREVENTION
For muscular-related spasms or pain, take a few days off from running and see if your symptoms subside. Icing for 20 minutes a few times per day can help relieve soreness and decrease inflammation in the area. You may want to see a physical therapist for specific exercises to strengthen your weaker muscles. No matter what, monitor your pain closely when you’re running post-injury.
You’ll also want to begin working on your flexibility by stretching any muscles groups that are tight. Though tight hip flexors and hamstrings are common, don’t overlook your quadriceps, internal and external hip rotators and piriformis muscles. Foam rolling the hamstrings and lower back can also help work the tension out of these muscles, just be careful not to overdo it. If you experience pain, it’s best to stop.
As for prevention, once your pain has subsided you’ll want to begin a dedicated strengthening routine that focuses on core strength. This helps stabilize the spine and provides more support to the area while you run. Hip, gluteal, stomach and back exercises are all part of the equation, and focusing on these areas helps improve your posture and power your forward motion as you run. If you aren’t sure where to get started, give these five exercises a try.
For anyone who works in an office or sits for long periods during the day, getting into the habit of waking up the gluteal muscles before you go out for a run is also recommended. Doing so activates this important muscle group and keeps your back and other muscles from being overworked. While strengthening these muscles each week is important, you can also do a few gluteal exercises before your workout begins to get them going. Here are a few glute exercises you can try as a part of a warmup before you head out for a run.
- Lower back pain is an injury that can be caused by conditions such as muscle strains from heavy lifting, a pinched nerve, or arthritis.
- Runners may experience lower back pain from weak hip and glutes that can cause the lower back to become strained during a run.
- Core strengthening, stretching, and aerobic exercise can help relieve lower back pain.
While you may not think your lower back has much of a role in running, it actually plays a pivotal part in the kinetic chain that powers your running mechanics.
Your core muscles—not just your abdominals, but the muscles that wrap around your midsection—support your spine and lower back. And your core, hips, glutes, and hamstrings together form one big stability machine, so weakness in any one of those muscles forces the others to take up the slack. If you have weak hip and gluteal muscles, for example, as they become fatigued during a run, your lower back is forced to work harder to keep you upright and stable, and you become vulnerable to injury.
Once lower back pain strikes, it can sideline you, but strengthening your core and stretching the muscles that support the lower spine can help. Research backs this—one 2016 review of studies published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that exercising can play a key role in preventing lower back pain. But to properly address the issue, it’s important to understand the root of the problem.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
While every case is different and individual, there are three common causes of that pain in your back:
- Muscular pain that comes on suddenly in your lower back is often indicative of a muscle spasm. Your muscles will feel as though they have locked up, and the pain can be severe and debilitating. You will not feel the shooting pain characteristic of sciatic or discogenic pain.
- Pain in your lower back that is associated with shooting pains down the back of one or both legs indicates sciatica or discogenic pain. A pinched nerve causes this discomfort. It often feels sharp compared to the muscle-gripping sensation that you would feel with a spasm.
- If you feel a chronic general achiness across the whole area of your lower back, you may have arthritis.
Back Pain Prevention
To prevent back pain, you need to work on strength and flexibility through the entire kinetic chain. Your spine and spinal muscles get lots of support from your core. In addition, tightness or weakness in your glutes, hips, quads, and hamstrings will impact the muscles in your lower back, putting more strain on those muscles and setting them up for a spasm.
If you’re trying to fix that nagging back pain—or more importantly prevent it—try the following strength exercises and lower back stretches, demonstrated by Hollis Tuttle, certified personal trainer and run coach in New York City. As always, consult with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine to ensure it’s safe for your condition.
How to use this list: Complete 3 to 5 sets of the following exercises in order. Perform each exercise for the specified number of reps or seconds, resting for 30 seconds between exercises. You will need a large stability ball and an exercise mat.
Julia Hembree Smith
Start on all fours. Lower onto your forearms with shoulders directly over elbows. Step feet back into a plank position. Draw your shoulders down and back—not hunched. Engage abdominal muscles tight to keep hips in line with shoulders so your body forms a long, straight line. Squeeze legs and glutes for support. Hold this position for 45 to 60 seconds. Gradually add time as your core gets stronger. Repeat for 3 to 5 reps.
Make it harder: Roll onto your right forearm and stack feet to perform a side plank. Repeat on other side.
2. Stability Ball Back Extension
Start facedown on a stability ball with feet resting on floor and core engaged so body forms a straight line. Keeping your back naturally arched, place hands behind ears and lower your upper body as far as you comfortably can. Squeeze glutes and engage back to and raise your torso until it’s in line with your lower body. Pause, then slowly lower your torso back to the starting position. Repeat for 12 to 15 reps.
3. Stability Ball Pike
Start in a high plank position with shoulders directly over wrists and tops of feet resting on a stability ball. Your body should form a straight line from head to ankles. Without bending your knees, roll the ball toward your chest by raising your hips as high as you can toward the ceiling. Pause, then lower hips as you roll the ball back to the starting position. Perform 15 reps.
Make it easier: Start with a Knee Tuck: In a high plank position, place shins on ball. Draw knees toward chest without raising your hips as you roll the ball to feet. Repeat, then work your way up to the pike position as you get stronger and more stable.
4. Stability Ball Reverse Leg Raise
Lie facedown on a stability ball with your hips on the ball, hands on the floor with shoulders over wrists, and legs extended out straight, toes resting on floor. Keeping legs as straight as possible, engage glutes and lower back to lift legs until they are in line with your torso. Lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
5. Glute Bridge
Lie faceup on the floor with knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms resting at sides. Squeezing your glutes, lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Pause for 3 seconds, and then lower back down to the starting position. Repeat for 15 reps.
6. Locust Pose
Lie facedown on the mat with legs extended straight and arms down at your sides, palms down. Contract your glutes and lower back muscles as you lift head, chest, arms, and legs off the mat and rotate arms so thumbs point toward the ceiling. Hold for 30 seconds, and then relax back to the floor for 5 seconds. Repeat for 10 reps.
Julia Hembree Smith / Zack Kutos
All images by:Julia Hembree Smith
Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Running Strong amazon.com $21.99 $11.50 (48% off) This article has been excerpted and adapted from Dr. Jordan Metzl’s Running Strong: The Sports Doctor’s Complete Guide to Staying Healthy and Injury-Free for Life. (Published by Rodale Books). Dr. Jordan Metzl Jordan Metzl is a sports medicine physician in New York City.
What to Do If You Have Lower-Back Pain from Running
Photo: yulkapopkova /
If you ever have lower-back pain, you’re far from alone: According to the University of Maryland School of Medicine, nearly 80 percent of the population will experience lower-back pain at some point in their lives.
And if you’re a runner? You’re even more likely to deal with this annoying issue. Lower-back pain is especially common in runners because a weakness or imbalance in your core and hip muscles can mess with your body’s ability to run with proper form. (Related: Causes of Lower-Back Pain and When to Worry)
More proof: Recent research from Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that runners with weak core muscles were at a much higher risk of developing lower-back pain, while another study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that doing lower-body strength exercises improved lower-back pain and overall running ability.
A strong core is like having a strong foundation built into your pelvis, hips, and legs. When these areas are supported by strong muscles, they can bend and extend better, and more fully, says Audrey Lynn Millar, P.T, Ph.D., FACSM, chair in the department of physical therapy at Winston-Salem State University. (That’s just one reason it’s important to have a strong core.)
But that doesn’t mean you should crank out a million crunches: “The hip muscles control the movement of running, so instead of focusing only on abs, focus on strengthening all the trunk and hip muscles that intertwine and surround the lower back,” she says. Millar recommends performing leg and core exercises two to three days each week as well as incorporating overall strength, flexibility, and balance work into your weekly workout routine. All this will help your lower-body muscles work in sync for pain-free running. (Also try this abs workout to prevent lower-back pain.)
And if you work nine-to-five in an office, you’re probably even worse off. Sitting all day leaves your lower back and hips tight. Tight hips restrict your ability to move and extend your stride while running, and that means the surrounding muscles-including those in your lower back-have to overstretch and strain to compensate, says Millar. She recommends taking walking breaks during the day, incorporating a standing desk, and stretching at night to relieve any sitting-induced tightness. She offers a quick note of caution, however, if you’re having lower-back pain that radiates to your hips or knees, or pain that’s spreading to other areas in your body. In that case, it’s time to see your doc. (BTW, here’s more on how to combat “desk job” body.)
Exercises to Help with Lower-Back Pain from Running
Add these six exercises into your workout to target the core and lower-body muscles that specifically support your lower back when running:
The side plank “requires activation of the deep hip rotators and deep core muscles that stabilize the low back when running,” says Millar. Lie on the floor, balancing on the right elbow and outside of the right foot. Lift hips off the floor to hold a side plank position, forming a straight line from head to heels.
Hold for 15 to 20 seconds, and then release. Repeat on your left knee and left forearm.
This exercise activates the lower back to help stabilize your torso, explains Millar. Start on hands and knees on the floor. Lift the right hand and left foot up off the floor at the same time, extending right arm forward, biceps by ear and kicking the left foot straight backward. Engage core to keep back from arching.
Hold for 30 seconds, and then release. Repeat on the opposite side.
This exercise helps reduce lower-back pain for runners because it gently stretches and reduces tension in irritated nerves, allowing you greater range of motion while running, says Millar. Start on all fours on the floor. Exhale and gently round spine up to the ceiling, dropping head and tailbone toward the floor. Then inhale and drop belly button toward the floor, arching your back, extending head and tailbone toward the ceiling.
Do 5 to 10 reps.
Side-Lying Leg Raise
This exercise strengthens the gluteus medius hip muscle, says Millar. It’s a critical muscle for holding your pelvis in place and reducing the torque on your lower back when running. Lie on the floor on the right side with legs extended. Lift the left leg up about 6 inches, then slowly lower it without touching it to the right foot. Keep the range of motion small and controlled.
Do 10 reps. Repeat on the opposite side.
Bridges strengthen all of your upper-leg muscles, including your glutes, hamstrings, and quadriceps. Lie faceup on the floor with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Lift hips up about 6 inches, pause, and then slowly lower. (Related: 2 Glute Bridge Exercise Variations to Target Specific Results)
Do 10 reps.
Stand on the right leg. Hinge at the hips and right knee to slowly lower about 6 to 10 inches into a partial squat. Return to standing. (Related: The Benefits of Adding Balance Training Into Your Fitness Routine)
Do 10 reps. Repeat on the opposite side.
This dynamic running exercise helps to strengthen the leg you’re standing on to work against the movement of the other leg, mimicking the motion of running, says Millar. Stand on the right leg. Keeping torso upright and in a slow and controlled motion, draw the left knee up toward the chest, then kick it forward, down, and back, making a circular motion as if pedaling a bike or running.
Do 10 reps. Switch sides and repeat on the opposite side.
- By By Nicole Clancy
Emil Zatopek, the legendary, innovative Czech Olympic champion in the 5000 and 10,000 meters and marathon, had a bizarre training method that was hardly back-friendly. He ran while carrying his wife Dana, a 148-pound Olympic javelin champion, on his shoulders.
While Zatopek’s interval-training methods became popular, his spouse-carrying approach did not. A good thing, considering runners already face their share of back woes. Back pain, which affects 80 percent of Americans, is one of the most common reasons for work absenteeism, according to the American Chiropractic Association, and accounts for more than $50 billion annually in medical bills. If you run on hard surfaces, have tight leg muscles, or weak abdominals–in short, if you’re like most runners–you’re vulnerable to back pain.
The lower back is a notorious problem area because the lumbar vertebrae bear much of your weight and take most of the stress of movement, says New York muscular-therapist and injury-prevention guru Jim Wharton. Lower-back pain comes in all shapes and sizes. It can be dull or sharp, chronic or intermittent. “Luckily, back problems are absolutely preventable,” Wharton says. “And once they manifest, they can be easily treated in their early stages before they become debilitating.” Here are simple fixes for the most common back problems encountered by runners.
The problem: For time-crunched runners, dashing out the front door for a workout is the norm, and that usually means hitting the road. “Running on pavement puts more strain on the kinetic chain–the linkage of the feet, knee, hips, and lower back,” says Irish physiotherapist Gerard Hartmann, who advises world-class runners, including Paula Radcliffe. And running on concrete can produce a double whammy if the road is pitched. “Running with your body tilted can cause an imbalance of the leg muscles and a leg-length discrepancy, which can irritate lower-back muscles,” says Seymour Goldstein, a Brooklyn-based chiropractor who has treated runners for more than 50 years.
The fix: Vary your training ground. Grass, trails, and treadmills soften the force of impact. They also produce stronger legs. Because your feet sink into soft surfaces, your body works harder to push off than when running on concrete. Try to avoid cambered roads, or at least stay off the slanted shoulder.
The problem: Flat feet or fallen arches are one of the biggest culprits of back pain, Wharton says. “The arch is the shock absorber that takes the weight and pressure from each footstrike. When that’s gone, it sets up a ripple effect that ends in the back.” Weakness in the feet can also contribute to back pain. Hartmann and Wharton believe that some of today’s heavily cushioned running shoes require the feet to work less. There are more than 20 muscles in the feet, and if they become deconditioned, the legs, hips, and back can feel the effects.
The fix: Visit a specialty-shoe retailer to make sure you’re wearing the proper shoes for your foot type. Also, test your foot strength by standing barefoot on one leg, closing your eyes, and trying to remain upright for at least 30 seconds. If you wobble, Hartmann recommends this foot strengthener: Stand barefoot and pick up a pencil with your toes. Do 20 reps on each foot. Walking around the house barefoot is another way to bolster those foot muscles.
The problem: Weak abdominal muscles don’t support the back well. This strains the hip muscles and puts tension on the lower back, which can cause painful back muscle spasms, Hartmann says.
The fix: Build strong abs. Lie face up with your hands underneath your lower back. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle. Contract your abs and slowly extend one leg so the foot comes close to the ground, then hold for three seconds. Do three sets of 10 on each leg.
The problem: Unless you run backward, your gluteals and hamstrings don’t get worked as hard as your hip flexors or quadriceps. These muscle imbalances lead to a tug-of-war and your back pays the price. Weak gluteals, for example, prevent you from “swinging through” your stride, says Wharton. The hip flexors are recruited to pick up the slack. They pull the pelvis down, making the lower back arch excessively.
The fix: Strengthen your glutes and hamstrings. Wearing ankle weights, lean forward over a table or bed with your hips at the edge, your abdomen flat on the surface, and your feet flat on the floor. Bend your nonexercising leg to a 90-degree angle and let it relax. Bend your other leg to 90 degrees and lift it up, with your heel aimed at the ceiling. Once your thigh is parallel with your hips, pause, and lower to the starting position. Repeat 10 times on each leg. The problem: Inflexible leg muscles can put strain on your back, says Robert Gotlin, D.O., chief of orthopedics and sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. Dr. Gotlin says that many runners who come to him with back pain have tight hamstrings, which limits motion in the pelvis and causes lumbar strain and back spasms.
The fix: Stretch your hamstrings. Lie on your back with your nonexercising knee bent and your foot on the floor. Extend your other leg out straight. From your hip, lift your straight leg as far as you can, aiming your foot to the ceiling. Hold for two seconds, release, and repeat 10 times on each side.
Chronic back pain that doesn’t respond to these fixes might warrant a trip to your doctor–or even a psychologist. Suffering through it shouldn’t be an option.
Is back pain in your head?
If you’ve been suffering from chronic lower-back pain, and traditional physical therapies have brought you no relief, your pain may be the result of emotional distress, according to John E. Sarno, M.D., of the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitative Medicine at NYU Medical Center. Dr. Sarno has treated about 13,000 back pain patients in the last 32 years with his theory of Tension Myositis Syndrome (TMS).
Dr. Sarno’s prescription for those who come to him in desperation (most have tried every treatment without success) is information. His patients attend lectures in which the doctor, a long-time runner himself at 82, explains his theory. He believes that when we repress emotions such as anger and resentment, the mind produces back pain to distract us from the emotional issues. The discomfort is real–tension reduces the circulation of blood and oxygen, which can cause muscle or nerve pain–even though there’s nothing physically wrong.
The treatment: “Reject the physical, accept the psychological,” Dr. Sarno says. Go about your life and remain active. The pain will fade away once you stop dwelling on it. The cure is accepting the mind-body connection. -M.B.
Marc Bloom Marc Bloom’s high school cross-country rankings have played an influential role in the sport for more than 20 years and led to the creation of many major events, including Nike Cross Nationals and the Great American Cross Country Festival.
The Surprising Reason Your Lower Back Hurts When You Run
Your lower back might not seem to play a big role in running, but holding your body vertically for a long time can make you vulnerable to injury-especially in the lower-back area. That’s why a group of researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, with the help of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conducted a simulation study to figure out why runners may experience this type of pain and what could be done to prevent it long-term. (Related: Is It Ever Okay to Have Lower-Back Pain After a Workout?)
Lead author of the study, Ajit Chaudhari, Ph.D., an associate professor at OSU’s department of kinesiology, created virtual models based on eight real runners to see how the bones and joints are affected by running (see photo).
Image zoom Photo: The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center
Once the simulations were complete, researchers manipulated different muscles in each runner, weakening and fatiguing them to see how the rest of the body compensates. It turns out that having a weak core could increase the load on your spine in a way that may lead to lower-back pain.
“The muscles that compensated when the deep core was weak caused greater shear forces (pushing and pulling of the vertebrae) in the lumbar spine (where the spine curves inward toward the abdomen),” Chaudhari tells Shape. “Those forces can cause the individual vertebrae to slide past each other or move side to side, which puts more stress on parts of the spine that can cause lower-back pain. Essentially, when you have weak or non-active deep core muscles, you might still be able to run the same way, with the same form, but you’ll end up overloading the lumbar spine in ways that can cause injury.”
But Chaudhari isn’t talking about your abs. “Those are the muscles you can see-your ‘beach muscles’-and they’re right underneath the skin and tend to be the furthest away from your spine,” he says. The muscles in your deep core are closer to your spine and tend to be shorter, connecting one part of the lumbar spine to another. “When strong, these muscles hold the spine in place, which leads to less injury,” Chaudhari says. (Related: The Ab Myths You Need to Stop Believing Right Now)
It’s common for people, even well-conditioned athletes, to neglect their deep core, Chaudhari explains. While sit-ups and crunches might work your abs, they do little for your deep core. Chaudhari recommends focusing on exercises that force you to hold your core in a stable position, like planks and bridges on unstable surfaces such as a Bosu ball or balance disc. (Related: These Ab Exercises Are the Secret to Preventing Lower-Back Pain)
7 Lower Back Stretches to Combat Tightness and Pain
Lower back pain is, unfortunately, very common.
Just about everything from bad form in the gym to poor posture to genetics can lead to discomfort in the lower back. One of most common causes of lower back pain is that we simply sit too much.
According to a study conducted by professors at Utica College and presented at the annual Applied Ergonomics Conference in 2015, the pelvis tilts forward when we sit, compromising our spinal posture.
Additionally, the hamstrings and hip flexors tighten as a result of lack of movement.
The hamstrings are three muscles that run along the back of our thighs. They attach to the ischial tuberosity region in our lower pelvis (commonly known as the sit bones).
“Often times, when there’s lower back pain, you’re typically experiencing tightness in the hamstrings or the glutes. So, always look there first,” says Aaptiv trainer Jade Alexis.
Tightened muscles plus improper spinal posture equals lower back pain. To help you loosen up and release tight lower back muscles and more, we talked to Alexis and Aaptiv trainer Ceasar F. Barajas to learn their go-to lower back stretches.
Use your upper body as a weight to stretch your lower back with this move. “The idea is that the upper torso is heavy like a sinking weight,” says Barajas explains. “The head hangs, making sure that the spine stays in alignment, but slightly rounded.”
To perform the move, you simply take a slight bend in the knees, feet shoulder-width apart, and just let the body fold over.
According to Barajas, it helps to think about bringing the bottom of your rib cage to the top of your thighs. Hang there for a few moments, then slowly rise up.
There’s liberty in the arms here. Barajas explains that you can let them hang or take hold of opposite elbows. “Nothing you’re doing is rushed—it’s all very slow and deliberate movement,” he adds. “You can also play with straightening one leg and bending the other.”
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Seated Forward Fold
Similar to its standing counterpart, Alexis turns to the seated forward fold to loosen tight hamstrings. To perform this move, you simply sit with your legs stretched long in front of you and fold your body forward as you did in the standing version.
“The legs extended out in front will help to stretch out the hamstrings,” Alexis explains. If you’re lower back is too tight to get a good range of motion, however, she offers a modification. “Sit on a block or a yoga bolster to elevate yourself,” she says.
“That will help release the hamstrings and not put any pressure on the lower back.” This will help you go deeper into your forward fold.
This yoga staple is a great stretch for your lower back. To perform this pose, start on all fours with your knees and palms to the ground.
Then, as Barajas explains, spread the knees wide and bring your big toes to kiss together. Sit your hips back on your heels and extend your arms straight out in front of you.
“Imagine the padding underneath your knuckles pressing into the ground,” he says. “Be mindful about bringing the shoulders away from the ears. Ideally, with time, you want to aim to touch your armpits to the ground.”
He adds that you can also perform this pose with your knees and feet together, arms at your sides, and your forehead resting on the ground. “You look like a little turtle,” he explains. “It’s a nice way to round out the back and it will give you a stretch through the upper shoulders, middle back, and lower back.”
Ready to get started with Aaptiv’s yoga classes? View them here.
The line twist is an ideal stretch for those muscles responsible for helping your spine turn and bend. To perform the line twist, start on your back. Hug your right knee into your chest and keep the other leg extended. Extend your right arm out to form a half-T.
Then, slowly twist your body over to the left side, careful to keep your right shoulder anchored to the ground, Barajas explains. “Turn the gaze towards the right fingertips, as you use your left hand to help bring the right knee closer to the ground on the left side,” he says. “If you don’t have that flexibility then just go to where the body stops,” he says.
Be conscious of your breathing as you perform this stretch. Barajas notes that many people subconsciously stop breathing when trying this stretch. “Even if the body is folded over and constricted, try to take as deep a breath as possible.”
The supine twist is similar to the line twist, but it employs both knees at once. To perform, start on your back and hug your knees into your chest.
Allow your upper torso to relax, keeping your head and shoulders on the ground. Extend your arms out to your sides and let your knees roll over to one side. Stay mindful as you perform this move.
“Sometimes we let gravity do the work and we let our legs drop,” Barajas explains. “The idea is to fight against gravity, let everything lower slowly, breathe, and sit with it a moment.” Repeat the same twist on the other side.
Pigeon Pose on Your Back
Alexis recommends this modified pigeon pose for loosening up tight lower back muscles. To perform, start on your back.
Bend your right knee and bring the leg to your chest. Grab onto your shin and pull the leg in towards you. Keep the left leg fully extended and flat on the ground. If that’s too difficult, you can also bend the left knee and rest the right ankle on top of the opposite knee. According to Alexis, the modification should look like a seated figure four pose on your back.
To deepen the stretch, reach through your legs, grab hold of your left hamstring, and pull it toward you. “The rule of thumb when you’re stretching with deep stretches is to hold it for as long as you can,” Alexis explains. “If you feel something releasing, then maybe hold it a little longer.”
This traditional yoga pose is one of Alexis’ favorite for lengthening the spine. Start on your hands and knees, with your hands directly under your shoulders, and your knees directly under your hips.
On an inhale, arch your back from your tailbone to your neck. Then on an exhale, drop your head, and round your back. Concentrate on pulling your navel up toward your spine. Repeat, moving slowly between the two positions.
It’s important that you really focus on isolating the spine. “Don’t shift forward and back with your whole body,” Alexis explains.
“Keep the shoulders right above the wrists, hips right above the knees, and try and let the spine shift up and down. You create length that way in your spine.”
Now that you see how yoga can benefit your lower back, check out a sample Aaptiv class here!