5 Exercises to Help Prevent Running Injuries
Running is one of the most popular forms of exercise people use to stay in shape. However, if running is the only form of exercise you participate in, you may be putting yourself at a higher risk of injury. While we have many qualities that make us natural born runners, our bodies can also jump, kick, push, pull, and the list goes on. Cross training and spending time on specific stretching and strengthening exercises can keep the muscles strong that running doesn’t emphasize.
Cross training can include anything from playing pick-up basketball to joining a circuit training exercise class. Personally I enjoy rock climbing and playing volleyball as changes of pace from running, but you can really choose almost anything. People often ask about cycling, which is primarily an endurance based training like running and tends to work similar muscle groups as running. Therefore, I generally encourage people to find another method of cross training on top of cycling if that is something they enjoy. Sports and classes that include more side to side movement, jumping, and faster paces are good ways to cross train for runners.
To Stretch or Not to Stretch
If you can’t consistently participate in a cross training program or sport for whatever reason, then below are 5 exercises that can help to prevent running related injuries and encourage you to be a well-rounded runner. These exercises include both strength and flexibility based movements that emphasize muscle groups that are common culprits of running related injuries. Now to answer another question that many runners ask—when to stretch? Most studies show that stretching before or after exercise has no impact on injury prevention, especially with endurance exercise. The important thing is that you are stretching regularly to maintain good flexibility. What is more important to do before exercise is warm-up. Intentionally getting your muscles warm and loose before exercise will help to prevent injury during training of any kind.
5 Exercises to Add to Your Training Regimen
This exercise focuses on the muscles that control how level your hips stay while running, including your gluteus medius. Lie on one side and go into ½ plank: bottom knee is bent, supported on your elbow. Keep your top leg straight. As you lift your top leg up and down, keep your core tight. You will likely feel more work being done by your bottom hip than the top. Try starting with 3 sets of 10 reps, flipping sides between each set.
- Low Ab Marches
Start by lying on your back, lift both knees up so that your hips and knees are each at 90 degrees. Flatten your low back by tightening your core and drawing your stomach down so that there is no arch under your spine. Keeping your back flat, extend one leg straight out, hovering just a few inches from the floor. Pull it back in and alternate. A good goal is to work up to 30 on each leg for 2 sets. If you cannot keep your back flat when extending your leg, either stop and rest or modify by keeping your knees bent and just touching one foot to the ground, like you are marching. Allowing your back to arch will put extra strain on your spine and limits the effectiveness of the exercise.
- Single Leg Dead Lift
With this exercise you are able to get both a stretch and strengthening benefit in your hamstrings and glutes. You can do this with or without weight, the important thing is to keep your “down” leg as straight as possible and your “up” leg in line with your shoulders. Lower your hands down to the ground with control, then pull back up to standing using the muscles in the back of your “down” leg.
- Two-Way Calf Stretch
Most runners stretch their calves, but tend to only stretch one of the two major muscles that lay in the back of the lower leg. This stretch focuses on both muscles, the gastrocnemius and soleus. Start by leaning on a wall, counter top, etc. and push one leg back, driving your heel to the ground. Hold this for 10 seconds. Next let your back knee bend slightly, still trying to keep your heel down. You should feel the stretch move lower in your calf. Hold this 10 seconds. Alternate 5 reps of each stretch on each leg.
5. Pigeon Pose
Finally, stretch the muscles you worked in the first exercise. Start on hands and knees and cross one ankle in front of the other knee. Extend your non-crossed leg back, sinking your weight onto your crossed leg. Drop to your elbows if you can. You should feel a good stretch in the back of your hip and potentially down the outside of your thigh. Hold 30 seconds and do 3 sets on each leg.
These are just a few exercises that will help to make you a healthy runner. Of course there are many more muscle groups to stretch and strengthen that are not emphasized in these movements. If you are interested in learning more or are currently suffering from a running related injury, come see us at Flex Physical Therapy and we will do our best to get you back on track. Call (800) 930-8803 today and ask about our brand new running program!