It’s no secret that runners love to run. As a matter of fact, some runners only want to run. I cautioned against this mentality in my last blog post. In case you missed it, you can check it out here. Yes, I’ve heard it before…”How can I possibly fit strength training into my schedule when it’s hard enough to fit daily miles in…isn’t it enough that I run?” The short answer…”NO!” There are some studies out there that state that the annual injury rate of runners can be as high as 66%! Quite simply, runners are a frequently injured group. With the busy lives that many of us lead, we sometimes erroneously think that we don’t have time to add strength training to our regimen. The problem, however, is that many individuals live mostly sedentary lives–quite simply, our bodies are not always prepared to handle the stress of pounding the pavement.
But wait…there is good news. Even a small dose of routine strength training improves your structural fitness (the ability of your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones to support you and stay healthy while running). Studies show that increasing hip strength is critical for injury prevention…and it doesn’t have to be a lot. As little as 15-20 minutes of running-specific strengthening exercises twice a week can significantly reduce your risk for running injuries.
I’ve compiled a list of 9 exercises that focus on hip strengthening and should only take you no more than 20 minutes to complete. You can tailor the exercises based on your ability level–if any of the exercises feel too difficult, then decrease the number of reps or the time interval. Conversely, if an exercise does not feel challenging enough, simply hold medium-weight dumbbells during the lunges and deadlifts. Go through each of the exercises, then repeat for a second set. The best time to do them is right after you finish your run while your muscles are warm and loose. Adding this routine to your running regimen just two days a week will help to keep you going strong in the long run.
The first four exercises are lunges that are designed to move your body in various planes of motion. If you’re just beginning a running program, try starting out with just 2 reps per leg in each set. As you progress and get stronger over time, increase to 5 reps per leg.
1. Forward Lunge–This is our classic lunge, designed to strengthen your gluten, quads, and hamstrings. It also helps to increase the mobility of our hip flexors, since many individuals have tight hip flexors from sitting most of the day. This is a fantastic exercise specific to efficient running form.
How to perform it–Step forward with your left leg so that your left knee is positioned over your left ankle. Lower your body so your R knee almost (or lightly touches) the ground. Step back and repeat on the other side.
How to perform it–Step directly out to the side with your left foot, keeping your toes pointed straight ahead (it’s ok to turn your foot out slightly when you land). Slowly lower your body until your left thigh is almost parallel to the ground, keeping your right leg straight. Come back up to center and repeat on the opposite side.
3. Diagonal Lunge–By stepping out in a diagonal pattern, it causes our body to move in two different planes of motion (frontal and sagittal). This helps to prepare us for the rotational demands of running.
How to perform it–Think about when you step straight ahead during a forward lunge and straight out to the side during a sideways lunge. Now split the difference, like your envisioning stepping out at a 45 degree angle (or, on a diagonal). Step out with the left leg and bend both knees until your left knee is close to a 90 degree angle. Come back up and repeat on the opposite side.
4. Reverse Lunge–This is, perhaps, the most difficult of the lunges since it challenges our balance, recruits the glutes, and involves a little more of a hip extension.
How to perform it–Step back with your left leg and lower your body until your left thigh is almost parallel to the ground and your right knee almost (or lightly) touches the ground. Make sure to keep your toes pointing straight ahead. Come back up and repeat on the opposite side.
How to perform–Stand in front of a step or bench that is either 12″, 18″, or 24″ (the higher the step, the more difficult the exercise). Step up with your left leg until your left knee is straight. Maintain a tall, erect, upright posture, then step down with the right leg. Repeat on the opposite side. Try 10 reps per leg.
6. Single-Leg Deadlift–This is a great exercise to focus on glute and hamstring strength (two muscle groups that are often overlooked and neglected but are critical for stabilization and power when running). Also, those individuals who live sedentary lives tend to have weaker glutes and hamstrings (so if you sit for most of the day, all the more reason to strengthen them).
How to perform–Stand upright, then perform a hip hinge (bend forward from the hip, not from the spine). While standing on your left leg, extend your right leg behind you for balance. Come back up into an upright position, thus activating your glutes. Try 10-20 reps per leg.
How to perform–Start in a plank position with your hands shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower your body until your chest reaches the ground. Straighten your elbows to push yourself back up. If you are unable to start out with a traditional (classic) push-up, rest your knees on the floor (instead of your toes) until you build up enough arm strength to perform a normal push-up. Try 10 reps.
8. Bridging With Marching– This is a great exercise to focus on hip stabilization, which is critical for keeping the entire leg stable during each stride, as well as glute strength, which provides power and strength during the stride and helps to maintain good posture.
How to perform–Lie flat on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Lift your rear end up by driving your heels into the ground and contracting your glutes (which will form a straight line from your shoulders to your knees). From this position lift your left leg (with your knee bent) and hold for 3 seconds, then repeat with the right leg. Make sure that your hips stay level and your rear end doesn’t sag toward the ground. Try 30-60 seconds.
9. Plank–This challenging exercise is awesome for working the abdominal and oblique muscles, which are essential for maintaining a neutral pelvis while running (thus aiding in injury prevention).
How to perform–Similar to the starting position for a push-up, but instead of supporting yourself on your outstretched arms you want to place your forearms on the ground with your elbows aligned below your shoulders. Your arms should be parallel to your body about shoulder-width apart. Hold this position for 3-5 seconds (if it bothers your wrists to have your palms flat on the floor, try clasping your hands together). Try holding 30-90 seconds.
If you or someone you know is having pain with running, don’t wait to take action. Call my office at once at (302)691-9055 or visit my website at www.wildermanphysicaltherapy.com to schedule your FREE 30 minute consultation to see how Physical Therapy can help. Don’t delay–schedule now!