Try these seven exercises and start building a foundation of injury prevention.
A common complaint among masters runners is that injury-prevention routines take too much time. After family, career and social obligations are accounted for, there’s barely room to squeeze in running itself. These same runners often complain again when they discover that injury-prevention routines won’t double as injury-reversal routines for their newly diagnosed plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinosis, IT band syndrome or other running-related malady.
Studies confirm that up to 80 percent of runners get injured in a given year. Masters runners would probably argue that the figure sounds a little low. There are many theories for running’s alarming injury rate—running too hard, too far, in bad shoes, in no shoes, with too long a stride, etc.—but Ross Tucker, PhD, co-author of the The Science of Sport, perhaps put it best: “I cannot stress enough that the reason for injury is training.”
As a Masters runner and coach, I can confidently add that “training while older” increases the risk even more. In 2010, my Masters club, Compex Racing, won the Masters national cross-country championship. The very next year, all eight members of that squad were sidelined by injuries—from Achilles tendinosis to piriformis syndrome to bursitis to osteoarthritis. Given those odds, who but a physical therapist in hawk to a loan shark would begrudge the 10-15 minutes, two to three times a week, that it takes to perform an injury-prevention routine?
The good news is that my clubmates healed and lived to run again—and to win more national championships. The better news is that the following seven exercises can serve as the foundation for your own injury-prevention routine. [Photos below by Diana Hernandez]
1. Heel Dips
Why? This exercise helps prevent Achilles tendinosis.
1. Use the balls of your feet to balance on a platform, with your heels extending over the edge. Use a chair for balance. Put all your weight on one foot and slowly lower the heel of that foot through its full range of motion.
2. Use both feet to rise back up, then repeat. Start with 2-5 repetitions for each foot, then build up to 15-20. As an alternative for runners experiencing pain at the heel rather than in the Achilles tendon, perform heel dips on a flat surface.
2. Big Toe Taps
Why? This exercise helps prevent plantar fasciitis.
1. Stand barefoot with your feet hip-width apart. Lift your big toes as you simultaneously press down with the other four toes of each foot.
2. Now reverse the motion, pressing down with your big toes as you raise your remaining toes. Start with a few repetitions and work up to 30 seconds or more.
3. Side Steps (with resistance band)
Why? This exercise helps prevent IT Band Syndrome.
1. Loop the resistance band either above your knees (least resistance), below your knees (medium resistance), or around your ankles (greatest resistance). Bend your knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart.
2. Step to the side until the band provides significant resistance. Then slide your pivot foot over to recreate your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10–20 feet in one direction, and then reverse direction. Do one set for each direction.
Why? This exercise helps prevent knee pain and hamstring injuries.
1. Stand one foot away from a step, box, bench or other platform.
2. Step onto the elevated platform, making sure that your entire foot is on the platform. The bend at your knee shouldn’t exceed 90 degrees—if it does, the platform’s too high.
3. Step up onto the platform, generating force with the muscles of your bent leg. Use your opposite leg for balance only. Reverse the motion. After 8-12 reps, repeat with your other leg.
5. Russian Oblique Twist
Why? This exercise strengthens oblique muscles to ward off groin strains.
1. Balance on your glutes, hands together and held in front of you, legs bent and lifted off the floor.
2. Twist to one side, keeping your legs steady while touching your hands to the floor.
3. Repeat on the other side. Start with 10–15 reps each side, then build up to 25–30.
6. Wobble Board
Why? This exercise helps to prevent ankle sprains and other lower leg injuries.
Forward and Backward
1. Hold onto a chair. Center your weight over the middle of the wobble board. Rock forward and touch the front of the wobble board to the floor (or as close as you can get). Limit the bend at your knee. Focus on utilizing the ankle’s range of motion.
2. Rock backward until you touch the floor (or as close as you can get). One rep includes both the forward and backward rock.
Side to Side
1. This time, rock inward and touch the side of the wobble board to the floor (or as close as you can get).
2. Rock outward until you touch the floor (or as close as you can get). One rep includes both the inward and outward rock.
NOTE: For both exercises, start with 5-10 reps, then increase by no more than 10 reps per week to a maximum of 50.
7. The Daydreamer
Why? This exercise helps relieve lower back tightness and pain.
Lie on your back with your arms out to the side, hands at approximately waist level, with your lower legs and feet propped on a chair. Keep a 90-degree bend in your knees and try to prop your feet so that they don’t roll outward. Take slow, deep breaths while relaxing. Don’t “do” anything else. Hold for 5-10 minutes.
About The Author:
Pete Magill is the fastest-ever American age 50+ at 5K (15:01) and 10K (31:11), the 2013 USA Masters Cross Country Runner of the Year, and the author of Build Your Running Body (The Experiment, 2014). Learn more about Pete at his website, PeteMagill.com.