To call running your “sport” doesn’t do justice to your favorite pastime and primary stress-busting therapy. It’s escape, freedom, and power, and it’s the activity that you endeavor to squeeze in no matter how tight your schedule. The thought of lacing up and shrugging off your frenetic agenda gets you through the day, so if you’re thwarted by injury, it can feel like a noose around your neck.
What if you could avoid the rehab and wasted injury recovery time by not becoming injured in the first place? It may seem like the optimal way to prevent running injuries is to stop running, but we all know that isn’t an option. Instead, consider the fact that the majority of running injuries are a result of a preventable factor: muscle imbalance.
When you do the same activity repeatedly, like use your quads to propel you forward and your calves as shock-absorbing springs, those heavily used areas of the body develop disproportionately to others. This creates the imbalance that results in stress to your muscles, joints, and ligaments. The result: a frustrated and injured runner.
To avoid this, you need to include exercises other than running in your 5k training plans.
The good news is, it doesn’t take very long, nor does it require the gym equipment you never thought you’d need as a runner. You can achieve the better muscular balance necessary for reduced injury risk and increased running performance by regularly dedicating a few minutes to three basic exercises that encompass effective strength training for runners.
#1. Side Lunge
How many: 2 to 3 sets of 10 on each side
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart, and step left while keeping your right foot in position. Bend your left knee, transfer your body weight to your left foot and twist your upper torso to the left, while keeping your abs firm to support your spine. Repeat on the right side. Tip: Be sure to hinge from your hip (stick your butt out) to fully engage your butt muscles).
Glutes, adductors and hip flexors all benefit from side lunges. If you have back and groin pain or hip instability resulting from weakness in these areas, side lunges will help.
#2. Speed Skater
How many: 2 to 3 sets of 10 on each side
A variation on the traditional side-to-side skater, this exercise goes back and forth between standing with one knee up to skater position with one leg behind you. The catch: the knee up leg is the same one as the backward extended leg, making this exercise somewhat reminiscent of a moving yoga tree pose.
The speed skater works your core as well as glutes and hip flexors. Core engagement is key to achieving the required balance for this exercise, and core development are well worth pursuing: in addition to injury reduction, core stability also enhances running performance through areas such as improved breathing support and augmented power and control in limb extremities. You become safer as you get faster.
#3. Side Plank
How long: progress holds up to one minute per side
Welcome to the ultimate core builder: the plank. Side planks are particularly challenging, but you don’t have to start with a full minute. Hold each side as long as you can and aim for 60 seconds as your eventual goal. In addition to your core, your glutes, quads, and hamstrings will all thank you.
To perform a side plank, rest on your bottom elbow, with your top arm pointing straight up. Hold your body sideways in a straight line so that the only areas touching the floor are the bottom elbow and the lower side of the bottom foot.
All three exercises, including rest between reps, can be done in under half an hour. Strength training requires rest days in between, so your weekly commitment is no more than a handful of minutes on three or four days. It’s a small amount of time to invest for such a tangible and worthwhile result.
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