Five essential exercises for improving your posture--and your running.By Clint Verran
PUBLISHED 10/01/2003 runnersworld.com
When your lower-back muscles are weak, lots of bad things can happen. Nagging pain, for one. Then there's bad posture, and sub-par running. To keep this critical "core" area healthy and strong, you need to strengthen and stretch the erector spinae muscle group (see opposite page). The following five exercises, done two or three times a week, will do just that. The entire session should take you no more than 10 minutes--and could save you from a lifetime of problems.
1. Back Extensions:
Lie on your stomach on a weight bench. Move forward so your hips are at the edge of the bench, and your torso is hanging over. Have a partner hold your ankles. Keeping your body straight, cross your arms behind your neck, and slowly bend forward at the waist as far as you can while keeping your back flat. Slowly raise your torso until your legs and upper body are in a straight line again. Do not arch your back upward. Do two sets of 10 repetitions. Caution: Don't do this exercise if you have a sore back or a history of lower-back pain. To add resistance, hold a 10-pound weight against your chest.
2. Double Knee to Chest:
Lie on your back with both knees bent. Place your feet on the floor and your arms at your sides. Bring both knees close to your chest and clasp your hands around your legs, just below your knees. Pull your knees to your chest until you feel a stretch in your lower back. Hold for 3 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
3. Seated Rows:
Sit on a large stability ball facing a cable column or an elastic band tied to something stable. (If you don't have a ball, use a stool instead.) Grab the cable or elastic with both hands. Sit tall and upright, and pull the cable toward you. Bring your hands to your rib cage and squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you. Hold for 1 second. Important: Do not bend forward or backward at the waist. Do two sets of 10 repetitions.
Lie on your stomach and place your hands on the floor near your shoulders as if you were going to do a regular push-up. Slowly push your upper body off the floor by straightening your arms. Keep your hips on the floor. Hold this position for 3 seconds. Relax your arms back to the floor. Repeat 10 times.
5. Ball Bridges:
Lie on your back with your arms at your side and your feet on a stability ball. Slowly lift your buttocks off the ground until your trunk and legs are in a straight line. Hold this position, and squeeze your lower back muscles and your buttocks for 2 seconds. Do two sets of 10 repetitions.
CLINT VERRAN, physical therapist and member of the 2003 World Championship Marathon team, has a marathon best of 2:14.