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5 important exercises to improve running form

As a physiotherapist I always give my patients exercises to help improve their running form. Although there are hundreds of good exercises one can give to a runner, the following 5 seem to be pretty popular in my clinic. These exercises can be used as a quick test to see if you have certain areas of weakness, and can be done in the comfort of your home. The exercises that are difficult for you to perform are the ones you should practice! None of these exercises should be painful.

 

 

1)      The one leg stand exercise:

Purpose: Improve balance

Why is this important?:

During the midstance phase of running, one foot is on the ground and the other one in the air: Essentially you are being made to balance on one leg (even if only for a split second). A runner will typically average 1,200 steps a mile on one foot. During the time your body has to support about 2 .5 times your body weight. Good stability in mid-stance is therefore very important.

How to perform this exercise:

Stand in front of a mirror on one leg. Your toes (especially your big one) must stay on the ground. Make sure you are not raising or lowering the inside arch of your foot. Make sure the rest of your body is not wobbling around. If you can complete this task for 30 seconds try the same exercise with your eyes closed.

2)      The Toe Lift exercise:

Purpose: Foot arch strengthening

Why is this important:

According to physiotherapist Jay Dicharry, in single leg stance phase of running between 80-85% percent of your support comes from your big toe. The key toe muscle (and the muscle which stabilizes the arch of your foot) is called the Flexor Hallucis Brevis muscle. In order to keep your body in good alignment foot strength is important. Strengthening this muscle is even more important for those that run in minimalist shoes, as there is less cushioning between you and the ground.

How to perform this exercise:

Stand with both feet on the ground. Push your big toes into the ground and try to lift your little toes. Now try and lift your big toe without lifting your little toes. Alternate between the 2 movements

3)      The doorway stretch exercise:

Purpose: Stretching the hip flexors

Why is this important

Being able to extend our hips as we run is essential especially as we increase speed. Tight hip flexors can often limit hip extension. In order to compensate for this lack of mobility we extend or arch our lumbar spine. This not only can lead to back pain, but also compromise the ability of our core muscles to work efficiently.  Making sure we have good length in our hip flexors is therefore very important.

How to perform this exercise:

To stretch your right hip flexor: Kneel down close to a door frame with your right knee in line with the door frame and your left forward in front of you. Your back should be on the door frame. Flatten your back against the door frame. You should feel a stretch in your right hip flexor.

4)      The One leg mini squat exercise

Purpose: Improving functional control

Why is this important ?

One of the reasons for developing knee problems when running is poor lower limb control. Poor control can be due to weakness both proximally (your core and hip abductors) or distally at your foot. The one leg mini squat exercise is an excellent exercise to improve leg control and strengthen all the right places.

How to perform this exercise:

Tie a piece of theraband above your knees. Stand on one leg with your other leg is slight abduction. Rotate your hip outwards against the band so that your foot arch raises slightly from the floor.  Bend the leg you are standing on to around 60 degrees and straighten. Make sure that your knee is in line with your second toes. Make sure that your trunk is stable

5)      The marching bridge

Purpose: Gluteal strengthening

Why is this important ?

The gluteus maximus muscle or buttock muscle is one of the strongest muscles in the body. A study performed by researcher Daniel Lieberman in 2006  looked at the role of the gluteus maximus during running. The study found  that the gluteus maximus helps to keep your trunk upright and to decelerate your swinging leg as it makes contact with the ground.  The gluteus maximus also extends your hip joint when your feet push off the ground, moving your body in a forward direction.
How to perform this exercise.

Lie on your back with your knees hip width apart. Lift your bottom off the floor. Now lift one leg an inch off the ground. Make sure you are not rotating or dropping your pelvis. Return your foot and repeat on the other side.

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