“Triathletes can be very fit but still functionally very weak in critical areas such as the core,” says Ball. He adds that it’s important to match the exercises to the problem, with the best results coming with a focus on lower back strengthening.
While McGill points to the importance of overall core strengthening for injury prevention and performance, he cautions against a reliance on crunches and sit-ups. In fact, the role of these exercises in avoiding back pain may be overrated; one study of Japanese triathletes found that those who performed more ab exercises had higher rates of back pain. Both experts recommend front and side planks as effective exercises for functional ab strengthening.
While back pain is common for athletes and non-athletes and doesn’t necessarily mean a significant problem exists, it can become chronic when left untreated. As Dixon says, “A ‘big engine’ is of little use if you have limited ability to stay healthy.”
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