Running is a complex exercise that involves balance, power and endurance. If you think about it, you are hopping from one leg to the next (a high level exercise) for thousands of repetitions at a time. If one or a group of muscles is not functioning optimally your risk for injury quickly becomes apparent. With this in mind there are a lot of exercises you can do that would be beneficial to your running economy and performance, but I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you and a little bit of the reasoning behind why I prescribe them.
Single leg dead lifts:
Dead lifts are a great exercise that when performed properly engage your whole posterior chain, highlighting your hamstrings, glutes, spinal erectors and lats. When we transition to a single leg variation we add a challenge to the muscles that provide both lateral stabilization and rotary stabilization in your hips and torso, just like you do when you run. In order to maximize this benefit it is important to keep your body square and your hips level with the floor. You will have a tendency to twist and to let your non weight bearing hip float up over your stance leg. Both of those compensations will reduce the benefit of the exercise for running.
Single leg step down or partial single leg squat:
This exercise almost exactly mimics your run form. In fact you can even add an arm swing and move your non weight bearing leg just as if you were running for real. But, since you are performing this exercise more slowly and in a controlled environment you can actually focus on your form and ensure that you are performing the movement correctly. Pay special attention to your knee position (tracking straight over your foot, not diving in or out) keeping your hips level (not letting your free hip drop below your weight bearing hip), and on keeping good posture (don’t hunch forward, stick your chin out or do wacky things with your arms).
While not often discussed your arm swing is an important part of running form. But in order for your arm swing to benefit your run, you need to have adequate trunk stability to transfer the power generated by your arms down to your legs and vice versa. A pushup accomplishes both of those tasks at once. It combines a well performed plank with dynamic arm and shoulder strengthening. A few tweaks to your push-up can help to maximize those benefits, such as: keeping your elbows close to your sides and keeping your forearms more vertical (think moving your torso back and forth rather than just up and down).
There are a variety of exercises that we use for foot and ankle strengthening and seeing as your foot is the part of your body that actually comes into contact with the ground and the fact that it has to support your entire bodyweight it is only fitting that you should pay some attention to maintaining adequate strength in that region. Some of the exercises that we recommend include the short foot, toe flexor strengthening, heel walks and a combination of ankle dorsiflexion and eversion. Focus on ones that are most difficult and work from there.
If some of these exercises are too difficult there are numerous modifications that can be made to simplify them as you prepare to run. Remember these exercises should be pain free, and if you are performing them poorly then you are practicing bad habits which are just as likely to make things worse as to provide a benefit. Arms flailing, holding your breath and wobbly knees are all signs that you have exceeded your capacity to perform the movement properly. Either stop and try again, or reduce the challenge by reducing the resistance, the repetitions or by changing the position of the exercise entirely. We are always happy to answer your question, so feel free to call the office or send us an email, and happy training.