Don’t Get Hurt! Build Strength

By Michelle Hamilton
Photographs by Joshua Simpson and Guido Vitti

In the battle against injury, a runner’s best armour is a strong body. Strong muscles, ligaments, and tendons guard against impact, improve form, and lead to a consistent gait. “If muscles are weak, one footfall will not be like the rest,” says Reed Ferber, PhD, director of the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary. “How your knee turns in, your hip drops, your foot pronates changes with each step. But with strength, these movements are the same each time, so your mind and body know what to expect.”

When a strong body runs, the brain tells the muscles to brace for impact before the foot hits the ground. The glutes and core contract to steady the pelvis and leg. The foot and ankle muscles are activated, providing a solid foundation to land upon.
But if one stabiliser isn’t strong enough or isn’t recruited, other muscles get overworked, and the entire chain of movement is disrupted, says Eric Orton, a running coach featured in Born to Run and the creator of the recently launched B2R Training System, which combines strength training with form changes to reduce injury risk.

Most runners lack strength in at least one muscle group, as well as in their neuromuscular pathways – the lines of communication between brain and body, says Jay Dicharry, who has a master’s degree in physical therapy and directs a biomechanics lab. He’s also the author of Anatomy for Runners. Strong pathways help muscles fire more efficiently and in quick succession, which enables you to run with greater control and stability.

These exercises, adapted from Dicharry’s and Orton’s programmes, strengthen running’s key muscles and those neuromuscular pathways. You can do them as a full routine or insert them into your day while watching TV two or three times a week. If possible, do the moves barefoot.

Donkey Kicks with Bar

Donkey-Kicks-Why
By adding a bar (or broomstick) to this old-school move, you teach the body to fire the glutes without arching your back – just like you should while running.

Bonus
You’re also strengthening the transverse abdominus, a stabilising muscle in your core.

How

  • Begin on all fours with the bar across your lower back.
  • Lift one leg back, knee bent at 90 degrees, keeping the bar still.
  • If the bar moves, perform smaller movements.
  • Do 50 reps on each leg.

Wall Press

Wall-Press
Why
Activates the gluteus medius in a bent-knee position, similar to running.

How

  • Stand with your left side near a wall.
  • Bend your left knee 90 degrees and make contact with the wall.
  • Push your knee into the wall and hold, while keeping your body stable (i.e., don’t press your shoulder against the wall).
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds.
  • Do two or three sets on each side.

Single-Leg Balance on Forefoot

Single-LEg-Balance
Why
Increases strength in the entire leg chain: big toes, calves, ankles, and hips

How

  • Balance on one leg on your forefoot (barefoot is ideal), heel off the ground.
  • You should feel the side of your hip (gluteus medius) working.
  • Hold for as long as you can keeping the body tall.
  • When you lose balance, rest, then repeat three more times.

Eccentric Heel Drop

Eccentric-heel-drops
Why
Strengthens calves, ankle muscles, and Achilles tendons, which allow for a stable landing when running

How

  • Stand on one leg on a curb or step with your heel off the edge.
  • Lift up onto your toes, then slowly lower down until your heel is below the step.
  • Start with a set of 10 on each leg.
  • Build to three sets of 15.

Clam Shells

Clam-Shells
Why
Strengthens gluteus medius to improve knee and pelvis stability

How

  • Lie on the floor on your side, legs stacked.
  • Bend both knees, keeping legs and feet aligned.
  • Open the knees like a clam shell while keeping your feet together.
  • Do two sets of 30 on each side.

Next level
Put a resistance band around your thighs.

Plyometrics

Standing-Box-Jumb

Jumping exercises increase elasticity – the springs that give running a light, bouncy feel. But they can also teach you how to minimise your impact on landing.

If you’re not currently strength training, add these moves after performing the other exercises in this programme for eight weeks.

Standing Jump

How

  • Use a step at a gym (or find wide steps at a park or building) about midshin height.
  • Standing with the step directly in front of you, jump up with both feet landing softly.
  • Step back down.
  • Do 10 to 20 times.

Lateral-JumpsNext level
When you can no longer hear your feet landing, jump up and then jump back down off the step.

Lateral Jumps

How

  • Place a pole (or broom) on the ground and jump over it quickly side to side, staying on the ground as little as possible.
  • Aim for three sets of 10 jumps.

Next level
Switch out the pole for something taller, like a foam roller; the added height creates a bigger challenge.

Stability Ball Bridge

Stability-Ball-Bridge
Why
Strengthens and activates the gluteus maximus and the multifidus (small muscles in the back that aid spine stability)

How

  • Lie on the ground with calves on a stability ball, arms extended out.
  • Lift your hips up off the floor so your body forms a straight line from ankles to shoulders.
  • Hold.
  • Once you can hold comfortably – and without your hips dropping – for 60 seconds, move on to a greater challenge.

Next level
1) Place your feet on the stability ball and cross your arms over your chest to perform the move.
2) From the lifted position, do single leg lifts, alternating lifting your left and then your right leg into the air.
3) From the lifted position, rotate your body in each direction, with control, to activate more core muscles.

Stability Ball Walkout

Stability-Ball-Walkout
Why
Strengthens core, arm, and shoulder muscles for better running posture

How

  • Lie face down, stomach on the ball, palms on the floor in a push-up position.
  • Walk your arms out, keeping your abdominals tight, until your shins are on the ball.
  • Keep your back straight.
  • Hold for 30 seconds; build to two sets of 60 seconds.

Next level
1) Walk out until just your feet are resting on the ball.
2) From a plank position with shins on ball, pull your knees to your chest.

Single-Leg Balance and Squat

Single-Leg-Balance2
Why
Develops balance in pelvis, ankles, and feet so your body lands on a secure platform every time you take a step

How

  • Balance on one foot (shoes off, ideally), with your back straight, arms in running motion, and your weight evenly distributed between your fore and rear foot.
  • Once balanced, press your big toe into the floor and hold for 30 seconds.
  • Aim for three sets on each leg.

Next level
1) Standing on one leg, lower your hips back, bending your standing knee. Then push back up.
2) If you can’t keep your hips even and your knee aligned over your foot, stick with just the balance move.

3 Responses to Don’t Get Hurt! Build Strength

  1. musa eugene maluleke 25 June 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    i have learned a lot as an athlet on how to strenghen my stamina and to improve my training programes with this illustration i hope to do better as aim going to follow them thanks for such an advice to some of us who lakes it.thanks againa

  2. tosca 9 July 2013 at 11:27 am #

    Very informative. I will definitely try this.

  3. Bruce 30 March 2014 at 7:11 pm #

    Thanks for fantastic exercises.I was stuggeling with sore legs and hips.I could feel the difference after a few exercises.

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