One major cause of running injuries is that our muscles are not strong enough to handle the cumulative impact of running for greater distances or at higher speeds. Exercises to strengthen the muscles, therefore, are one good way to help reduce the incidence of injuries.
Current research provides us with a number of different exercises that can increase muscle strength, every one of which has been tested and is known to reduce injury or to help injuries heal faster. Let’s take a look at some of these exercises and see what they are and how to do them.
Method: Stand on a flat surface or on the edge of a step, find something nearby to hold on to in order to stabilize balance, and then lift your heels off the floor slowly until you are standing on your tiptoes. Once you are on your toes, slowly lower your heels until they are once again placed flat on the floor. If you are standing on the edge of a step, lower your heels until you feel your calves stretched and taut. Repeat the entire movement as many times as necessary.
Benefits: Strengthens the calf muscles and helps prevent heel pain, also known as plantar fasciitis. Research reports that this exercise can help the symptoms of plantar fasciitis to disappear more quickly. The exercise also helps prevent Achilles tendon pain, calf pain and shin pain.
Method: Stand on a flat surface or lie down on your side with your legs extended away from your body. From there, slowly raise one leg up and out to the side of your body, keeping your knee extended and foot in a neutral position. Once the leg is extended, slowly bring it back down to your starting position in a controlled manner. Repeat this exercise on one side of the body a number of times. Then switch and repeat on the other leg. You can also use sandbags or other forms of ankle weights for additional strength training if you wish.
Benefits: Helps strengthen the hip abductors—the muscles on the sides of the hips. Research has shown that this exercise can help prevent and treat IT band syndrome and runner’s knee pain as well.
Method: Lie flat on your stomach with your forearms and elbows on the ground perpendicular to the body. Raise your body up in a straight line parallel to the floor, using your toes as support, and tighten your stomach and hip muscles. Hold this position for as long as possible. Over time, you can gradually increase the duration of how long you hold the exercise according to your body strength.
Benefits: Helps strengthen the abdominal and hip muscles. Research has shown that this exercise can help prevent and treat groin pain and improves hip stability.
Method: Lie supine and bend your knees keeping both feet on the ground and your knees and feet hip distance apart. Place your arms down on the ground at the sides of your body. Press your heels down and raise your hips up from the floor. Hold this position and then slowly lower your hips back down to the floor.
Benefits: Helps strengthen the hamstring muscles and glutes. Research shows that this exercise can also help prevent and treat hamstring pain after running speed is increased.
Method: Take a big step forward with one leg and bend the knees to lower your body until the back knee barely touches the floor. You can also lower yourself only as far as you are able until your muscles become stronger. With your legs push yourself back up to the starting position. Continue to repeat the exercise, alternating legs each time.
Benefits: Helps strengthen the quadriceps, hamstrings, calves and hip muscles. Research has shown that this exercise can also help prevent occurrence of injury in athletes.
Strengthening your muscles to protect against the cumulative effects of repetitive stress and impact from running is a great and simple way to reduce injuries and can provide you with a host of benefits. All runners should take some time to do these few exercises at least twice a week.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, 2007.