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5 of the Best Workouts for Runners Suffering from Back Pain

By Sophie Saint September 10, 2020
5 of the Best Workouts for Runners Suffering from Back Pain

During lockdown, lots - and we mean LOTS - of people took up running as well as home workouts and other at-home fitness activities.

Couch to 5k, a fitness tool promoted and supported by the NHS and Public Health England was adopted by literally  hundreds of thousands of people looking to get in shape (and use their hour exercise out of the house constructively) during lockdown. 

From March until the end of June, there were almost one million downloads of the Couch to 5K app! In fact, there were 858,000 downloads compared to 448,000 during the same time last year. That’s a 92% increase compared to 2019.

See, we said there were lots. But enough with the stats.

Why do runners suffer from back pain?

Running is the oldest form of exercise. We humans used to run away from predators and towards our prey. Now we do it for fun and slightly different health purposes. But sometimes, we can start to feel a little twinge at the base of our spine and suddenly cantering down the road is no longer as fun as it should be. Along with shin splints, back pain is the bane of every runner’s existence. 

Why do runners suffer from back pain?

Runners’ Low Back Syndrome (RLBS) is not a medical term but it is frequently used to group together the four most common causes of lower back pain from running:

  • Facet Joint Irritation:
  • Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
  • Weak back (yep, really)
  • Myofascial trigger points in the lower back muscles

 

According to Sports Medicine Physician Jordan Metzl M.D., back pain experienced by runners can be any one, or a combination of, three different types

  • Bone-related pain
  • Muscle-related pain 
  • Discogenic pain 

 

If you have quickly increased the intensity, distance or duration of your runs during lockdown and over the last few months, then you may well be feeling one or some of these. The most common time for people to feel RLBS is about five or six weeks into a routine or training schedule the amount and frequency of your runs starts to scale up.

The most common of these is muscle-related pain. This occurs when your glutes, core, hips, or hamstrings are weak, and the back muscles have to work harder to compensate. While the other two types of pain require a trip to the doctor,, all you need to relieve muscle pain is you, yourself and some complementary workouts to strengthen these key areas. 

5 of the Best Workouts for Runners Suffering from Back Pain 

By doing a couple of classes a week to help build up the strength in your core, hips, glutes and hamstrings, not only will you stop having as much back pain, you will also improve your speed and overall running technique. Win win.

Here are just some of the best classes at-home and in-person to help alleviate your back pain and get you back on your feet.

Yoga and Pilates

There are so many different forms of yoga and Pilates, it can be quite daunting to choose which is going to be the best class for you to help relieve that back pain. 

While core-strengthening classes have a lot in common with Pilates and yoga; yoga builds core strength by holding set positions for long durations and flowing movements, while Pilates works on more repetitive movements. Additionally, Pilates and Yoga help to stretch out your muscles, increasing flexibility and range.  

In terms of Pilates, it’s always best to look for classes specifically aimed at working the back or spine. The great thing about Pilates is that most of the classes will say what they do on the tin, usually entitled, “Pilates for the Spine” or “Back-Focused Pilates”. It will be pretty easy for you to tell whether you’re in the right class or not. 

Seeing that you love running, you might well want to try some form of yoga that is a little more up-tempo, making you sweat a little while also stretching out your back and strengthening your core muscles. Usually these classes are listed as “Dynamic Yoga” or “Ashtanga” and will be best for back issues. If you start here and ask for advice from your instructor, they’ll guide you to even more classes that will help you strengthen your back. 

Core Strength Building

The ‘core’ is a group of muscles in the middle of your body which form the entire foundation of how you keep yourself upright and able to do things, like bend down and get back up again, twist around, lean backwards, and hold in a plank position. Without this core group of muscles, you’d end up a floppy mess. 

You’ll also end up with a sore back when running. And probably in most workouts. 

Back pain caused by a weak core is due to the fact that, as a result of your abdominal muscles and the muscles in your hips being weak, your back has to overcompensate and work extra hard to keep you in the right position for running. 

Classes that strengthen these core muscles will stop this from happening. Your back will work in harmony with the other core muscles, resulting in you running faster and for longer. And most importantly, avoiding injury.

Core-strengthening classes or Hatha yoga are the perfect complement here. The foundation for smooth, efficient movement in running is definitely posture and alignment. While core-strengthening classes are self-explanatory, Hatha yoga helps us learn to elongate the spine without adding any damaging tension. Stand taller, stronger and ease off on the tension and this will do wonders for your running technique and its after effects.

Pole Dancing

Surprising huh? But just think about it for a second. Pole dancing requires all the same levels of strength and endurance as running.

You need a strong core, flexibility, and a deep well of stamina. Plus it’s a great upper body cardiovascular workout. You’ll also be working on your glutes and hamstrings, both of which are essential to good running form. 

This is a great way to climb out of your comfort zone and try something new. Running is such an isolating form of exercise. With pole dancing, you have the chance to socialize and meet so many new people, and potentially other runners like yourself. 

While we recommend this as a great way to start to ease the pain in your back, please do be careful. This can be a really intense workout and if you have not warmed up properly you could do further damage. You’ve been warned!

Booty Poppin’ Glute Classes

If you work on strengthening the muscles in your legs, it will help reduce the pain in your back. By working your glutes you offer extra support to your back, which means that it doesn’t have to work so hard when you’re running. 

That doesn’t mean you have to start doing hundreds of squats just to help with your running, there are loads of classes which focus on the lower body. 

You could try an all-round class that focuses on legs, glutes, and works in a little bit of abs too. Like core-strengthening classes, these workouts focus on toning and building the muscles which are imperative for a healthy running style. These classes also help you increase your fitness levels and build the muscles in your legs.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for a more focused burn, you could try a super fun Booty class. These classes are refreshing and effective. It has been said that once you’ve tried this kind of class, the love of movement you gain spreads into every other activity you take up - including running!

Barre

If you have ever watched a ballet or seen a ballet dancer move, you know they need a strong core in order to pull off such elegant yet impressive movements. It is A LOT harder than it looks!

Barre classes take inspiration from ballet, focusing on making your core and legs strong. Barre is also a great way to stretch out your legs and increase your overall flexibility, which will have secondary benefits for your running. 

Just like runners, Barre classes come in all different shapes and sizes. You could try a more traditional at-home Barre workout which will heavily focus on strengthening your core and legs.

Such classes are quite a change of pace for runners, with the emphasis being on control and poise, rather than raising your heart rate. This ensures that you will gain the maximum amount of muscle tissue without sacrificing any to calorie burn.  

If traditional just isn’t quite your style, you could try a Barre Fitness hybrid class. These workouts still target your core and glutes, but they also incorporate exercises to get your blood pumping and your heart racing. This is a great way for you as a runner to break into Barre classes without sacrificing your need for speed. 

 

Ultimately, the best thing to do is to see running as part of a group of activities that you do. Combined with at-home fitness classes or in-person activities like yoga, pilates or any of the above, you’ll be in much better shape to get the most out of your pavement-pounding. And your body will thank you for it.

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Sophie Saint

Written by Sophie Saint

Exercise used to always terrify me, until I was forced to face it head-on with an impending surfing trip. I entered the world of MoveGB and never looked back.... Yoga, gym sessions and the odd round with a punchbag opened up my eyes to getting active and feeling awesome from it! Travelling, social media and blogging are what I love both in and out of work. And Turn'd Up dance has become a serious obsession now...

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