It’s no secret that running is the most common exercise that people do. Even those who do not go to the gym or join something like CrossFit or boxing or pilates, and want to get fit, run. It’s an easy exercise to pick up, a great hobby to have, and has multiple long and short-term benefits.
But just like any other form of exercise, it is not entirely risk free. In fact, running requires you to take great care of the conditioning of your muscles as well, especially due to the fact that people who take up running progressively overload on distance and speeds.
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In fact, a 2015 study—Injuries In Runners—states that the “predominant site of leg injuries is the knee”, and that the other most common affected areas are the lower leg, foot, and upper leg. “Less common sites of running are the ankle, the hip/pelvis/groin and lower back,” it adds, also mentioning that “poorly perfused tissues, such as ligaments, tendons and cartilage, are particularly at risk because they adapt more slowly than muscles to increased mechanical load.”
Which is why most fitness experts will suggest that even casual runners should do some form of strength and conditioning exercises. This ensures that the muscles are not overloaded without sufficient training. But that is just half the story. When it comes to running, it’s not just about muscle power, it is also about technique. While the lower body strengthening part is easier to figure out in the gym, it is the technique part which needs more work.
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An article in Runners World, titled Why Running Form Matters, quotes Olympic marathoner Pete Pfitzinger on why technique is something that needs to be learnt and isn’t always inherent. “We all run as children and assume that we are doing it correctly. That is usually not a bad assumption, but there is a difference between doing something reasonably well and maximizing performance.” In fact, another interesting theory on what might happen if you don’t work on technique is that your body will become so good at just being efficient, that it will utilise fewer muscle fibers to do the same movement over and over again. This leads to increasing weakness, and since running is such a repetitive-move exercise, it will over time lead to injuries.
But it’s not always possible to hire Olympic-level coaches to improve your performance. One might just want to run 2-5kms a day on a casual basis and still want to work on making sure the muscle fibers are working well. That is where these exercises will come in, the best part about them being that you can incorporate them into a daily routine and make sure you are proofing your body against running injuries. And they are not complicated at all.
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The easiest exercise for lateral hip stability: Hip stability is absolutely essential in life, including for the simple act of standing. This exercise, suggested by James Dunne, who has a range of other videos to improve your running technique, is so easy it can be done anywhere and anytime. All you need to do is stand on a step with one leg dangling and follow Dunne’s tips in the videos. Let one side of the pelvis drop off and pick it right back up using the opposite gluteus medius muscle. Bonus is that it might help you dance a bit better as well.
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High knees and hopping drills: It’s not for no reason that everyone is made to do high knees at some point in their lives. The act of driving the knee up (with the toes pointing forward and not down) helps build explosive power and also teaches you to stay light on your feet and not slam them down every time you land. The first exercise is a light hop, where you drive one knee upwards and hop and land on the same foot, and the other one is just basic high knees. However, you need to make sure you are not leaning back during high knees—it is a mistake a lot of people make. Instead, try and stand tall and make sure you are using the power of your feet to drive up the rest of the lower body.
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Calf raises, and toe walking: If you thought these exercises were complicated, then by this point, you must be pleased they are not. But it’s these easy exercises that we hardly focus on. Building calves are essential for a healthy life, and this is true for running as well. But the focus once again is on technique: it is important to understand that landing during toe-walking must happen on the balls of your feet, which are placed just behind your toes.
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Banded reverse lunges with knee drives: Finally a slightly difficult one, but excellent for knee health, resistance, strength, and therefore, eventually speed as well. Take a long resistance band and wear it around your chest and attach it to a strong pole or a machine in the gym. Now, reverse lunge after driving your knee up with sufficient resistance on your body. The video below demonstrates the exercise, but adding a knee drive will aid your running technique and go easy on your knees as well.
Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.