Spring is upon us (finally!). March 20th marked the first day of spring and many runners will be itching to dust their outdoor shoes and gear off after what was a long, harsh winter throughout the United States. If you kept up your running practice indoors on a treadmill, good for you. If you converted to another type of cardio while in hibernations, props to you. If you bought all of the polar gear and ran outside this winter speechless!
Regardless of your winter workout habits, it’s time to dust off those trainers and get ready for running season! Many states launched their season start with an infamous Shamrock Shuffle. The half marathon and marathon registry emails are starting to clog our inboxes. While all of these races and ambitions sound great and come from a wonderful place, how can one stay safe and injury-free during the running season?
Two words: Strength. Training.
When one dissects a runner’s gait, the power muscles for a great stride might surprise the common runner: glutes, hamstrings, and core.
First, the glutes are the largest muscles of the body and propel one’s stride. They consist of 3 layers that expand out into the hip and strong glutes will equate to strong hips which leads to less knee injuries, alleviated knee pressure, less ankle injuries, a stable lower back/ pelvis, and increased running speed. The 3 layers of the glutes are the maximus, medius, and minimus and are named so due to their size. The glute mediius and minimus are traditionally weaker as they are more utilized in lateral and external rotation movements, which are movements we don’t use naturally in our day to day lives. However, strengthening these muscles will be key to injury prevention and will also improve running speed/time.
Try the following glute exercises 3 days per week:
Equipment needed: resistance band (loop form)
Travelling side squats: Wrap band around ankles. Keeping core pulled in and knees behind toes, step out wide to one side and squat to comfort. Step the opposing foot in to meet the stepping foot (hence, the travelling name for these squats). Do 10 to one side, 10 to the other side, and repeat 2-3 sets. This should be felt in the hips, core, and possibly quadriceps (thighs).
Rear leg raises: Place elbows or hands on a sturdy surface such as a wall, couch back or countertop. Position body so that you are in an L shape (face & stomach towards floor, legs straight). Pull core into spine. Take your right leg and lift it up to hip height, keeping toes towards floor (no hip rotation), repeat 15 times and at the 15th rep, pulses at the top for 30 seconds. Repeat on left side. Perform 2 sets on each side. Ankle weights can be added for an extra challenge.
Next, for the hamstrings:
Equipment needed: None
Single leg bridges: Lay on back as if you were about to do crunches. Instead, with your knees bent, bring legs/ knees/ ankles together (feet are still on ground). Engage core by tucking tailbone under and pressing lower back into the mat. Take your right leg and point it up to the ceiling; left leg holds firm to the floor. Lift your glutes and lower back off the mat, using just your left leg. Raise up and down with control 10x and hold for a count of 10 on the last rep at the top. Repeat twice on each side.
Butt kickers: Get into a hands & knees position with hands under shoulders and knees under hips. Engage core and pull belly button into spine. Lift your right leg back, toes facing to floor and then hold it straight behind you. Take your right leg and bend your foot towards your glutes 10 times; on the 10th rep, hold the right leg in a bent position and pulse foot towards sky for a count of 10 (like you were trying to stamp your footprint on the ceiling). Repeat 2-3 times on each side; bonus: shoulder and arm work!
Finally, for core strength:
Equipment needed: None
Plank: Lay face down on mat or floor. Place hands or elbows (either works for plank) and lift body up into a straight line, as if you were about to do a push up. Keep the tailbone tucked under and feel this move only in your core (there should be NO back pain). Look in a mirror to ensure form is a long line from crown to heel. Hold 3 times for as long as you can with good form and no back pain. For more advanced: add in a leg lift (hold the plank with right leg lifted 2 inches off floor and switch halfway). To make it easier: place knees on ground during holds.
Side plank: Lay on one side on the floor or mat. Place bottom elbow or hand under shoulder on same side and lift body up into a side-facing version of the plank (much harder than a normal plank, do not get discouraged). Like the normal plank, placing knees on ground is a good modification. Hold 3 times on each side for as long as you can without pain in spine. Bonus: extra hip strengthening!
With this simple strength training routine, you can build the muscles a runner needs to stay injury-free and even increase your speed and endurance. Strengthening your glutes, hamstring, and core will change how you run and will make you feel stronger, faster, and ready to take one a race.
Have a great running season!