T Nation

Back Cramps and Running

So I’ve begun training my 3 mile run for my PFT the last few weeks. Pretty often (about every other run,) my lower back/upper glute area gets a rediculous pump at about 1 miles and starts cramping for real at about 2-2.5 miles.

Anyone else have this problem and/or a possible solution? I train 4 days/wk on a modified Westside template. Thinking of switching to just 3 to help recovery. I’m not very big, currently ~6’1 @ 230, so I wouldn’t figure this should be a problem for me…Any suggestions?

i have the same problem,except mine starts pumping at about half a mile and is unbearable around a full mile, lol. i dont know what it is for sure, my personal conclusion is just that im a lifter not a runner.

Same, don’t know what it is though. I do sprints instead now. I think it might have something to do with a weak lower back, however I’m not sure. I’m doing stretches and working on my lower back right now to try and sort it out.

Thanks for the responses. Not running isn’t an option so I’ll just deal with it

I get cramps in my low back too on long distance. Not sure why.

In fact not really sure why I was running anything over 60 yards.

I’d be interested to see what people are stretching and whether it’s helping. Before I started lifting, I did an excessive amount of running, and never had any problems. Now, I have some of the same tightness that you seem to be describing - onset after about 2 km. I’m trying some psoas and hip flexor stretches; we’ll see how that works out.

Yea I face the same problem too. Like aut-x-rs I used to be a distance runner (about a couple years ago in my high school days). Back then, I was running at least 10km a day 6-7 days a week, with no lower back problems.

I stopped running and started lifting about 1.5 years ago. I now only run about once a month (just for fun), and have recently started to notice the problem the OP described: ridiculous pump after about 2km and cramps after maybe 5km.

I generally do dynamic stretches before running and passive stretches after, which don’t seem to have helped much. I’m now trying higher-rep hip extension / lower back work (eg. deadlifts and good mornings in the 10-12rep range), because I’ve been going pretty heavy/low-rep on these exercises for some time. Wonder if that will work.

Does anyone have any idea as to the cause of this phenomenon? Could it be a heavier upper body taxing the spinal erectors? Or perhaps conversion of many slow-twitch fibres into fast-twitch fibres in the lower back?

man, i’m glad (and sad, lol) to see i’m not the only one in this boat. like the OP, i’m training for the AFPT (army, although OP is marines?). mine usually starts around 3/4 of a mile and it’s the reason i have to end up stopping before 2 miles, not because i’m winded.

i’m looked alot into it, and unless you run slightly hunched over and not upright with good posture (which wasn’t my problem), all i can suggest is better running shoes and stretching. do a little research and find shoes that are suited to your arch type and foot pronation. i’m getting my new shoes next week, so hopefully it helps.

I used to run distance all the time and had this is not uncommon. Back pain is often caused by (obviously) overworking your back. basically your back may be holding you upright instead of your core and your glutes.
So a few things you will want to do:

  1. work on your core, planks, crunches, obliques, etc. Especially strengthen transverse abs not just rectus

  2. work on your glutes and hams which might be weak as well

  3. If posture is a problem (shoulders rolling fowards) work on that since that will help with keeping your center of gravity back. Stretching pecs, strengthening upper back may help.

  4. When you run focus on pushing your hips forward, almost so your hips are the furthest foward part of your body. In reality you will still be leaning foward (don’t lean back), but your back will be straight instead of curved and you’ll be engaging your core and glutes. Always focus on posture, ditch the headphones :slight_smile:

  5. New shoes might be in order.

I didn’t have the problem before lifting either. Seems to be a pretty strong correlation between lifting and this back problem…


I’m in the same boat as a lot of the guys here. My lower back gets really tight when I run more than half a mile. I’ve always attributed it to a few things like muscle imbalances or that my legs are uneven lengths.

It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one with the problem. I’m interested to see if anyone has gotten better from extra stretching or hamstring work.

Well the results are in…Much less ME lower and cutting lower lifting body volume have helped. I also think I have become accustomed just by running more often.

Stretching hamstrings extra helps, also.

I had the same lower back problem until I started foam rolling and working on activating/strengthening the glutes. I dont know if it was just one of those things or a combination, but I can now run pain free.

Dont think you have strong glutes just because you squat and deadlift. I could dl heavy, but I finally figured out that my glutes suck and was a source of back pain for me.

Dude I feel so bad for you. I hated training for a PFT my back and shins started burning about about a half mile. I haven’t run more than a mile since I got out. I never had any problems until I started putting on mass. Boot camp I was 150 and could run great…When I got out I was about 185 and in great shape, but squadron PT and the PFT sucked. I hope you find a way to fix it. Good luck

I hope to tackle this in a future article (sort of), but what it comes down to is that efficient endurance running is in many respects dependent on limb proportions and body mass distribution.

Without going into too much detail, in someone ‘built to run’ the head and the arms counterbalance each other. This acts as a natural shock absorber and balancing mechanism for the upper body, meaning the back has to do a lot less work in maintaining a properly curved spine, holding up the shoulders, and head.

Your arms weigh too much, your upper body weighs too much, and too much of your muscle is distributed toward your head for you to ever be an efficient runner.

The low back/upper back issue will get better over time as you develop the same type 1 aerobic abilities in those muscles that you need in your legs to run. But your back will always do far, far more work in running than a kenyan’s.

running sucks, just my opinion lol. drink more water. also, eat plenty on bananas for the potassium. this may help. wouldn’t hurt doing a dynamic warmup before hand too!!!

I used to be a recreational ultramarathoner (9:18-52 miles off road, 3:20 regular marathon, 8:26 mile and a half), when i weighed about 20 pounds less. After getting bigger, I had the exact same problem.

Masonator, besides simply running more, here’s what I found helps alleviate this problem for me (5’6, 170):

  1. weigh less
  2. lengthen your stride
  3. keep your hips forward during the run, this has to be constantly kept in your mind.
  4. think tall.

yes, the last three points are the same thing basically.

Also interestingly enough, this problem seems to go away when running in boots and utes. I have no idea why. Good luck!

I agree with alot of things said especially the weight and that it is simply your body trying to get reprogrammed to running.

Think about doing ab work before running and This may limit the amount of stress on the back.

have you been doing deadlifts since you started running?