Training recommendations for runners vary widely. There are some who believe that all you need to do to be a good runner is to run more, and so all they do is run. In my career as a doctor of physical therapy, I’ve observed over the years that those who incorporate strength training into their routine often deal with fewer overuse injuries and also see greater gains in performance.
Distance running is a very linear activity (it occurs mostly in a straight line). Because of this, many of the muscles that move the body sideways and into rotation, which also play a role in stability and power generation in your stride, may go undertrained.
Here are 4 great exercises to try to build control and stability around the core and hips. If done with consistency, these are an example of some of the exercises that can help to improve stability and reduce overuse-type injuries in the lower body and aid in boosting your performance.
1. Banded Hip Rotations
These are like rotator cuff exercises for your hip. They will help to improve control of the hip joint, making it more stable for accepting weight in your stride.
The more stable your hip/pelvis complex is when your foot makes contact with the ground, the more force you can apply to the ground, enabling your stride to be longer and more powerful.
This improved control of the hip joint can also help to reduce many of the common overuse injuries we see in the foot/ankle and in the knee.
1. Stand in an athletic position with a band around your legs just above your knee with your knees and hips bent, and your back straight. Put your hands on your pelvis and keep it stable throughout the exercise.
2. Keeping one leg stationary, move the other knee towards the stable one, keeping your foot flat and your pelvis stable.
3. Pull that knee back out against the band as far as possible, while keeping your foot flat on the ground.
4. Repeat for 12-15 reps or until you feel a burn/fatigue in the outside and back of your hip/glute. Then, repeat on the other leg.
2. Crossover Step-Ups
This is a great variation of the standard step up that adds components of lateral movement and rotation to the exercise.
1. Weight is optional for this exercise. Stand to one side of a 12-18″ box. If using weight, hold it on the side away from the box.
2. Cross your outside leg over to step up onto the box, keeping your hips/pelvis square (not rotated toward the box).
3. Shift your weight into the foot on the box and drive down and out to step up onto the box.
4. Repeat for 6-10 reps on each side.
3. Lateral Lunges
This is another great exercise that incorporates lateral movement and helps to build strength and stability in the hips.
1. If using a weight, rack the weight in front of the shoulder on the side you will be working.
2. Begin by taking a wide step straight to the side.
3. Sit your hips back as you bend your knee into a squat, keeping your foot flat on the ground. Be sure to keep your ankle, knee, and hip aligned.
4. Push hard off the ground to return to standing position with your feet together and repeat for 6-10 reps on each side.
4. High Plank Stride Leg Drivers
This exercise is great for building core stability while also working on movement and activation patterns of your leg while striding.
1. Get into a push up position and hold the “up” position.
2. Keep your body aligned and core tight while lifting one leg up and back off the ground, using your glute muscle.
3. Maintaining stability through your body, pull your knee on the same leg up toward your chest.
4. Repeat on the same leg, alternating between the extended and flexed position for 10-12 reps.
5. Repeat steps 1-4 on the other leg.
These 4 exercises do not constitute a complete training regiment for a runner, but they can be a great addition or improvement to a regular training plan. Volume of these exercises (sets/reps/frequency) will be dependent on current ability, conditioning, and training experience.
If you’re looking for extra guidance in developing and starting a strength training plan, a personal trainer is a great resource to get started and maintain a routine that will compliment and enhance your regular running schedule.
As always, if you’re in pain or have an injury, seek out the guidance of a physical therapist first. They can help you diagnose, treat, and resolve orthopedic injuries faster, more effectively, and more affordably than anyone.
If you haven’t already, take steps toward making strength training a part of your training routine. I can guarantee you’ll be happier with how you feel and how you perform while running.