Running can be a strenuous activity on your body. However, it is one of the best ways to get in shape. Your bones, joints and ligaments take a constant beating, causing tendonitis, shin splints and other stress-related injuries.
So how do you prevent these injuries while improving your running?
These 8 simple and effective exercises will help you strengthen and stabilize your legs, which will in turn prevent injuries.
The exercises are not in numerical order of importance since they all have their own individual function and purpose.
1. Front Squats/Back Squats
Squats are probably the most widely performed lower body exercise, and if done right, they are the best exercise for your lower half. They are great because it is a multi-joint movement and really works the lower back, hamstring, gluteus and quadriceps muscles.
If performed right, squats will also greatly strengthen the area around your knee and ligaments, which will help prevent injuries and tendonitis. Proper form can easily be found in an online search, but you should remember a few key points when squatting:
- Make sure you squat down so your thighs are parallel to the ground, or 90 degrees. This will ensure a full range of motion.
- Arch your back and stay up straight. Try to round back your shoulders. Do not let your shoulders come forward and slouch. Try to look up to the ceiling with your head. This will help maintain good posture.
- Keep a good, strong base and squat through your heels. Do not let your knees pass your toes, as this will put a great amount of stress on your knees, leading to injury.
- Recommended sets/reps: 3×12-15 or 5×5 for sprinters
2. Walking Lunges
These are similar to squats as far as muscles worked. They are different because they incorporate forward movement and more stabilization, while isolating one leg at a time. They will help strengthen your legs for the impact of repeated strides.
- Start standing up straight, either holding dumbbells at your side, or a bar on your back. Stride out so that your leg makes a 90 degree angle. Try to keep most of your weight over your back leg so you are balanced and do not stride out too far. Variations can be added with uneven surfaces for extra balance and stabilization work.
- Recommended sets/reps: 3×15-20 meters or 4×10 meters for sprinters
3. Calf Raises
Calf raises will help strengthen the calf muscle and proven shin splints, which is every runner’s most hated injury. You can do calf raises with many variations and on many different machines. Make sure to read instructions if on a machine for proper execution. It is best if you get a full range of motion, and not just performing the exercise on flat ground. Try to get some form of a decline to stretch and fully strengthen your calves.
- Recommended sets/reps: 3×20-30 or 3×10 for sprinters
4. Jumps/Box Jumps
Any variation of jumping will do. Standing jumps with no box will help work on your explosion off the ground, and more importantly for distance running, your deceleration on the way down. This will help prevent injury on your knees as well as your ankles.
5. Leg Curls
Leg curls can be done on a machine, or with a stability ball bridge. Lying on your back and your legs on the stability ball, push your hips up and bring the ball in towards your gluteus. This will strengthen your hamstrings.
- Recommended sets/reps: 3×15 or 3×8 for sprinters
6. Leg Extensions
Leg extensions are the same as leg curls, except you are working your quadriceps muscles. These can be done on a machine or lying on your back holding a medicine ball between your ankles. Recommended sets and reps is the same as leg curls.
- Recommended sets/reps: 3×15 or 3×8 for sprinters
7. Core Work/Abdominals
Although your core may not be considered your lower body, it is important to have a strong core for running. It could also help prevent back problems and relieve back pain. One good core exercise is a full body crunch. Lying on your back, bring your chest off the ground while at the same time bringing your legs of the ground as well. Try to touch your legs and slowly go back down to the lying position then repeat. There are hundreds of different core exercises you can perform, find out which ones you like best!
- Recommended sets/reps: 3×20
8. Terminal Knee Extensions
This one is a bit more uncommon but is starting to be used more by runners and athletes all over to help prevent knee problems and injuries. You can perform this exercise with an oval resistance band, or without it if used as a warm-up. You start by putting the resistance band around a pole or base of some sort at knee height. Next, put your leg inside the band so it is around the back of your knee. Then, keeping your knee bent and your toe on the ground, straighten your leg and lock out your knee. This will help warm-up and strengthen the small areas and muscles around your knee and tendons.
Sum it Up
To review, let’s take a look at what happens when you run. When you run, you constantly use the same muscles. Your hamstrings and calf muscles contract to drive your body forward, while your quad takes most of the deceleration impact from each stride.
Your knees and shins take a lot of impact when you jog, since you are running straight up, causing all your weight to go straight into one leg. Think of the amount of impact your leg takes on each stride: It is normally about twice your body weight for a normal jog.
Now think about how many times you stride and take that impact. It becomes quite taking on your lower half.
The second concern when you run is pelvic rotation. When you start to lean and use your dominant leg more often than the other, you get pelvic rotation, which is rotation of the hips.
In other words, it is an imbalance in your legs. These exercises, along with a proper warm-up will help correct that.
If you care about your health enough to run, why not take care of your body as well and prevent injury?