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As a runner, I need to get my adrenaline fix daily. In order to achieve this feeling, my workout regiment comprises cranking out 10 to 15 miles each day. Although this is great physical fitness, it only works certain muscles and also leaves me with a sore back. Due to limited time restraints, I usually just deal with the pain because I don’t want to spend the extra minutes doing other exercises.
Before lacing up my shoes, I take a few minutes to really stretch out my legs, but that’s the extent of it—leaving out many major muscle groups. Unfortunately due to the pounding that running causes on my spine, I recently seem to be suffering from worsening back pain. Because I don’t strengthen my core muscles, my body—and running—has begun to suffer.
I tried putting up with the pain, hoping that it would dissipate. Finally, I wised up and decided that to start doing something besides just running. Not wanting to visit a doctor, I chose to try doing a ‘plank-a-day’, challenge. Planking is something that literally only takes a few minutes and has benefits for more than just the back area. Doing this small exercise can build the whole core of the body.
Like most people, I forget about the core area simply because these muscles are mostly hidden and don’t show improvement quickly like lifting weights or running can do. Sometimes the simplest of movements can result in the greatest gains of strength in exercise.
Planking is done by holding your body off the ground, in a straight line. This pose may look easy, but that is quite deceiving. Planking takes endurance and greatly builds strength in the abs, back and core. It also assists in strengthening the body’s glutes and hamstrings, while helping to support proper posture and improving balance.
The top benefits of planking daily includes: toning the belly, reducing back pain (because it contracts all layers of the abdominal fascia and is literally a no-impact exercise that strengthens the back), gaining flexibility by working the muscles around the shoulders, collar bone and shoulder blades, stretching the muscles that often stiffen during prolonged sitting and improving balance and posture.
Normally I detest doing any exercises that don’t involve running. If I have a running injury I usually get angry and spend days on the couch—participating in no exercise—which helps nothing and makes me feel worse. When my back was worsening this time, I decided to use this opportunity try planking and other non-impact exercises, like the elliptical.
The Right Way To Plank
Because planking is a simple holding pose, it can be done almost anywhere. I decided to try it at home first, not sure how my posture would look. I figured this way I could save myself embarrassment at the gym, in case I fumbled and fell during my first attempt.
To plank you lay on the floor and hold your elbows directly under your shoulders and place your wrists in line with the elbows. You push your body off the ground, holding it in a straight line and holding yourself up by your toes. At first, try to hold the plank pose for 20 to 30 seconds. Then you rest for a minute and repeat the plank three to five more times.
Doing this exercise may sound easy, but it’s not. I figured since I run close to 100 miles each week, I obviously have muscles, and I could conquer this task easily. I was greatly mistaken. I went into the plank pose and within about 15 seconds my arms started to shake. I did manage to hold the pose for 40 seconds on my first attempt, but it wasn’t easy.
Why You Should Try It Yourself
Since that day I have been trying to plank every morning before I work out. Within a week I noticed a drastic change in how my back felt and it seemed like my running stride was improving, too. Within a month my speed was increasing and my legs felt much better because my posture was improving.
Since this discovery, I still continue to plank several times a week. I can now hold the pose for over two minutes and my back has improved so much that I haven’t had to see my chiropractor, saving me money. Although seeing the chiropractor regularly helped move my back into the correct position, visits with him didn’t build strength the way exercising does.
For any runner struggling with back pain, I recommend trying the plank-a-day challenge. Don’t be embarrassed if you can only hold it for a few seconds at first either. You have to start somewhere and every second will help not just your back—but all of the body‘s core muscles.
Planks may not be fun, but could be the one thing that your body requires to take your running to the next level—building the muscles that are just as important to the sport as the legs are.