6 Injury-Reducing Exercises For Runners

Improve your weaknesses and run strong this spring and summer. Photo: www.shutterstock.com

Learn how to attain optimal hip flexor flexibility, improve core strength and stability, as well as gluteal strength and stability.

One of the key factors to better racing performance is consistent training. That means having a body that can withstand pounding. Injury prevention measures can include a multitude of strategies, one common method being core stability training.

Core stability exercises don’t always have to involve you lying on your back or acting like a statue for minutes on end. There is a time and place for exercises that involve those positions, but progressions must be made to further challenge your ability to maintain a stable torso.

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In their 2012 paper, “The Anatomy and Biomechanics of Running,” Nicola and Jewison examined the idea that runners with better core stability are more able to maintain a stable torso and possess better trunk control while running. Therefore, less energy is wasted, thus leading to a more efficient running stride and a reduction in injury risk. “The core muscles help absorb and distribute impact forces and allow body movements in a controlled and efficient manner,” they wrote. In addition to keeping the spine and abdomen stable about the axis of the vertebrae, the 29 core muscles also all work in unison to allow breathing and the natural twisting motion to occur during the running stride.

Furthermore, running with an excessive anterior pelvic tilt, commonly associated with weak abdominal and gluteal muscles and tight hip flexors, has been shown to be a common biomechanical abnormality associated with several types of running injuries. A strategy to limit injury risk for any runner should include:

1. Attaining optimal hip flexor flexibility

2. Improving core strength and stability

3. Improving gluteal strength and stability

Below you’ll find six stretches and exercises that focus on the aforementioned plan of attack. Implement the exercises on the following pages into your training plan and improve your likelihood of making it through the season injury-free.

1. Kneeling Quadriceps Stretch

How to do it: Kneel on a soft pad with your right knee. Place your left foot flat on the floor in front of you and grab your right ankle. Get tall and pull your right ankle toward your butt. Brace your abs and squeeze your right butt check. Push your hips forward as you slightly shift your weight forward. You should feel a stretch in front of your right hip and quad.

Prescription: Hold this stretch for 10-seconds or up to 2-minutes. If performing shorter duration stretches (e.g. pre-workout) perform 6-12 repetitions. If performing the long duration stretch, perform 1-2 repetitions. Perform daily or as needed.

2. Knee Hug to Reverse Lunge

How to do it: Stand with your feet hip width apart and hug your right knee, bringing your thigh toward your chest. Do not round your back and stay tall and balanced. You should feel a stretch on the underside of your right hip. Now, release the leg and take a big step backward. Descend into a reverse lunge but do not rest your right knee on the floor. Your left knee should be above your left ankle with almost equal weight distribution between both feet. Squeeze your right butt cheek and push your right hip forward. You should feel a stretch in front of your right hip and quad.

Prescription: Perform 10 repetitions on each side before running workouts.

3. Single Leg Hip Extension 

How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat. Create a neutral spine and brace your abs. Lift your right leg off the floor (knee bent or leg straight depending on ability). With your hands at your sides, push your left foot into the floor and lift your hips off the ground. Your right leg should keep the same hip angle and your low back should not arch past neutral. Form a straight line from your shoulder to your left knee. You should feel a strong contraction in your left hip and a bracing sensation in your abs. Hold for 2 seconds.

Prescription: Perform 10-12 hip lifts per side for a total of 2-3 sets every other day.

4. The Turkish Get Up

This exercise is truly all encompassing. As you flow from one position to the next, you’ll notice the Turkish Get Up links many components together such as a hip hinge, side plank and lunge.

How to do it: There are many steps, so here they are broken down:

STEP ONE:

— Lie on your side with your legs bent while holding the kettlebell handle diagonally in your right hand.

STEP TWO:

— Roll onto your back and press the kettlebell up with both hands, stabilizing the kettlebell on your right wrist.

— Bend your right knee and place your foot flat on the ground. Your left leg should be straight and your left arm bent and angled out slightly.

— Focus on the kettlebell and keep your eyes on it throughout your entire rep.

STEP THREE:

— Keep the kettlebell pointing toward the ceiling as you roll up onto your left elbow by driving your right foot into the ground.

STEP FOUR:

— Extend your left arm, supporting your body with your left hand and left hip.

— Keep your trunk muscles tight and spine neutral.

— Squeeze your glutes and lift your hips up.

STEP FIVE:

— Slide your left leg underneath you, placing your left knee on the ground.

— The kettlebell should be directly over your right shoulder.

— Raise your torso; it should look as though you are in a low lunge.

STEP SIX:

— Press through your front heel and stand up.

— End with your feet together and kettlebell locked overhead.

— To finish one rep, perform the steps in reverse.

5. Body Saw to Press Up

How to do it: Get into a basic front plank position with your elbows on the floor. Place your feet on furniture sliders or on a hand towel (placed on a slippery floor like hardwood, tile or linoleum). Brace your abs and form a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. Push your body backward while sliding your feet on the sliders or the towel. Keep your core tight and pull your body forward. Transition into the press up and lock your elbows. Maintain the plank position and return to the starting position.

Prescription: This exercise is very challenging. Perform sets of 1 to 15 depending on your current strength and ability. If performing fewer reps, perform more sets and if performing more reps, perform fewer sets. Perform every other day.

6. Lateral Bag Drag

How to do it: This exercise utilizes a sandbag. A partial filled book bag works great as well. Set up in the top of a plank with your arms straight and hands on the floor. Place your feet wider than shoulder-width apart and place your hands hip-width apart. Brace your abs and form a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. With the bag off to the left side, lift your right hand to grab the bag. Do not twist or move your body. Now, slide the bag across the ground toward your right. Again, do not twist or move your body. Once the bag is all the way over to the right, return your right hand to the floor, switch hands and pull the bag toward the left. That is one rep.

Prescription: Perform each repetition very slowly. This exercise is not about speed. Perform 2-3 reps as slow as possible. Perform 3-5 sets every other day.

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About The Author: 

Jon-Erik Kawamoto, CSCS, CEP is a runner, strength coach and owner of JKConditioning in St. John’s, NL, Canada. Jon specializes in strength training endurance athletes and is currently in the middle of preparing a strength training resource for runners. Stay in touch by checking out www.JKConditioning.com.

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