“I contend that running doesn’t cause injuries, but rather illuminates our weak links and allows us to see what we need to improve upon.” – Tom Holland, Windy City Sports
It’s race season. There are so many 5, 10, 15Ks and half and full marathons to choose from at this time of year even an event junkie could be overwhelmed by the options. You can find a race for every weekend if you have the time, money and motivation to participate.
But the more you run the more you increase the risk of injury. Knees, hips, foot and ankle injuries are the most common and many are the result of overuse, and muscle weakness and imbalance. You may not even realize you’re headed for trouble until you’re signed up to run a race and pushing through your training schedule. There’s not much worse than plunking down $70 for a race, working hard to have a good finish time only to end up sidelined with an annoying injury that takes you out of the competition.
I’m in absolute agreement with Tom Holland when he says that running doesn’t cause injuries, but illuminates our weak links. When I started increasing my running distance to compete in my first 15K event I wound with the very common and quite painful IT band syndrome. But since that time I’ve learned there are some things that I can do to improve on my weakness and stay in the game.
From experts around the web and my own experience I’ve selected six exercises that everyone should be doing to avoid overtraining and running injuries.
1. Spinning – Some experts, like Susan Lacke, believes that cycling enhances running in a number of ways and Jeff Horowitz believes it can help prevent IT band syndrome. Putting in a few miles on a spin bike after I run is the biggest change I made to my training program this year and the IT band issue has not flared up as it has in the past when I began my spring outdoor distance runs. This is something I plan to hang onto. Not only is it a preventative exercise for me, I find I enjoy the bike as much as the run.
2. One Legged Ball Squats – One legged ball squats will increase leg strength and improve balance and stabilization. When you run outside your feet are constantly striking on uneven surfaces – a bump in the side walk, a tree root on the trail – which can lead to injury or falls. This one-legged squat utilizes the stabilization muscles and will help you achieve better balance. Place the ball in the middle of your back against the wall. Lift one leg and slowly slide down and back up the wall using the other leg. Do 12 repetitions on each leg two to three times a week.
3. Single Leg Dead Lifts – This exercise focuses on strengthening your backside; primarily hamstrings, gluteals and para-spinals. Typically runners have overdeveloped quads and hamstrings. Muscle imbalance occurs when the hamstrings are superior in strength to the gluterals. This muscle imbalance can lead to injury. The single leg dead lift can help correct this problem. Stand on one leg holding a dumbbell or body bar. Slowly lower down to the floor keeping your back straight. Repeat 12 times on each leg daily.
4. Calf Raises – Achilles tendinitis is most common as runners increase their distance to train for big races or add speed drills and hills to their program. This running ailment is not only painful, it can be downright debilitating if left untreated. According to Shelley Drozd of Runner’s World, a walking warm-up is a good way to prevent achilles tendinitis. So are strong calves. A basic calf raise exercise – with or without weights – will help strengthen the calves and prevent this injury. Rise up on the balls of your feet and take 10 seconds to lower the heels back to the ground. Do two sets of 12 to 15 repetitions three times a week.
5. Side Leg Lift – Common knee injuries and IT band syndrome is the result of inadequate hip strength and weak hip flexors and abductors (outer thighs). A study conducted on injured runners, all suffering from IT band syndrome, followed them through a six-week gluteus medius strengthening program. (The gluteus medius is the main hip abductor and is implicated in hip abduction weakness.) As a result of the strengthening program, all but two of the runners were able to return to training after the program concluded. One of the best exercises for improving gluteus medius strength is the side leg raise. Lay on the floor and lift and lower the leg slowly back down to the floor. Do one to three sets of 15 reps once a day.
6. Supine March – A strong core is key to preventing running injuries. According to Matt Fitzgerald at Competitor.com, “The best core exercises for runners are those that mimic the specific ways the core muscles are required to work during running.” The supine march allows you to strengthen the core while your legs move similar to the way they do when running or walking. Lay face up on the floor with both knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Press your low back to the floor. Alternate lifting the feet off of the floor so that the foot comes even with the opposite knee. Work up to 20 repetitions.
The Best Offense Is A Good Defense
Staying ahead of injuries is as simple as incorporating one or two sets of these exercises into your daily routine. Spending the time to find and fix your weakest link will pay dividends on race day.
If you liked this article you might also enjoy Are Running Injuries Inevitable? Not According To These Running Gurus.
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