Research published in the Journal of Biomechanics examined the primary causes of chronic low back pain in runners, and it all comes down to the strength of your midsection. People with weaker core muscles have a higher risk of developing back pain, the authors wrote, because the superficial ab muscles are doing the hard work that the deep core muscles should be doing, causing faster fatigue and, ultimately, pain.
"When your deep core is weak, your body is able to compensate in a way that allows you to essentially run the same way. But that increases the load on your spine." —Ajit Chaudhari, PhD
"When your deep core is weak, your body is able to compensate in a way that allows you to essentially run the same way," said lead study author Ajit Chaudhari, PhD, in a press release. "But that increases the load on your spine in a way that may lead to low back pain."
Luckily, there is a simple way to combat low back pain with one easy-to-follow ab exercise: planks, which stabilize the core.
"Working on a six-pack and trying to become a better runner is definitely not the same thing. If you look at great runners, they don't typically have a six-pack but their muscles are very fit," Dr. Chaudhari said. "Static exercises that force you to fire your core and hold your body in place are what's really going to make you a better runner."
So, runners take note: Start adding planks into your routine if you aren't already. According to New York City–based trainer Lana Herzig, you should ease into your new core side focus with three sets of 20-second planks, giving yourself a 10-second rest between sets, and work your way up from there.
"Once those are a breeze, gradually keep adding 10 seconds to each set," Herzig told me. "And for more of a challenge and to spice things up, try plank variations like side planks, planks with alternating shoulder taps, single-arm planks, knee-to-elbow planks, and plank hip dips."
By making time to add a solid ab workout into your sweat sesh, you'll not only develop a strong core that will keep your body safe, but you'll also become a better runner in the process. Win, win.
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