As a runner it's incredibly important that you don't neglect strength training - at least one session a week should be scheduled into your training plan. Why? Because when we run regularly we get strong and dominant in a particular set of muscle groups, and usually this comes at the price of opposing muscle groups getting weak and inhibited. Regular strength training means that those muscles that are starting to get lazy from you doing the same activity all the time get a prod to stay switched on, ultimately helping you to be a stronger and more efficient runner.
So if your strength training is pretty minimal, what should you prioritise? Well, when it comes to protecting yourself against injury, studies show again and again that poor hip stability contributes to all sorts of issues including knee injuries, hip injuries and ankle and foot problems. What controls hip stability? Those all important glutes.
But surely I use my glutes when I run, so why should I strengthen them?
When we run, all of our movement is focused to forward and back, forward and back (imagine a slice through the middle of the body) - over time we get really nice and strong in this forward and back (sagittal) plane of movement. Unfortunately, if you're not mixing up your running with some specific strength training, you start to get quite weak in the side to side plane of movement (the frontal plane). What this means is that the muscles that work in that plane of movement start to get weaker e.g. hip abductors. If your hip abductors (glute max, glute medius, glute minimus and TFL) are weak, then your ability to keep your pelvis level in a single leg position is compromised.
This is an issue that at best, leads to a significant power leak whilst you're running such as hip dropping, crossover gait etc and at worst leads to knee injuries, gluteal tendonitis, various foot and ankle problems including plantar fasciitis, shin splints to name a few.
Ok so my glutes need strengthening, now what?
Start to work on the strength of your hip abductors. You will not make significant strength gains if all of your glute work is STILL working in this front to back plane (think glute kickbacks etc). You need to challenge the side to side strength, in other words hip ABduction (taking the leg sidewards, away from the midline).
It's a good idea to get to grips with non weight bearing exercises first before you crack on with the weight bearing stuff. This is where your clam shells, sidelying leg lifts and side planks start to come in. Take it up a notch by performing the first two exercises with bands around the knees for an added challenge, and try side planks with the legs up on a step, then try raising your upper leg (yes, ouch, feel the burn.)
Once you've got the hang of that, you can challenge yourself in weight bearing exercises that are ultimately more transferable to running. There's a whole host of exercises you could do, but some that I like are single leg squats which show strong activation levels for the glutes (watch that your pelvis doesn't drop and the knee doesn't drift in), single leg deadlifts again keeping the hip up (pelvis level), step ups using a band around the knee etc.
Have fun playing with these exercises. Keeping those glutes strong will ultimately make you stronger, less prone to injury and faster - you're welcome.
If you're struggling with injury or recurrent niggles that crop up with running, book an Osteopathy consultation at Balanced Osteopathy using the online bookings system.
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