Injury Prevention

Ask A Trainer: Which Exercises Will Prevent Injury and Help Me Run Faster?

Get a band and get to work. These five simple exercises will both keep you healthy and help to improve your running performance.

Triathletes love swim/bike/run training. And many triathletes admit that if there is one area lacking, it’s the exercise program at the gym. It’s understandable since there’s a lot to manage: three disciplines, family, career, etc. But committing to a strength program that addresses both injury prevention and running speed is a win-win.

There are common root causes of injuries for endurance athletes that when addressed also improve running speed. If you want to prevent running injuries and run faster, it’s all about your hips.

What are the top five most common running injuries?

What are common root causes of these injuries?

The most common root causes I see are decreased strength of the gluteus medius/minimus, decreased flexibility of the soleus, and training errors (running too far or fast, too soon.)

The first two injuries above can be prevented by doing closed chain (feet fixed to a stationary surface) strengthening of the gluteus medius/minimus and the last three injuries above can be prevented by doing closed chain stretching of the soleus.

To Prevent Running Injuries, Simplify for Success and Address with Accuracy

Impact forces during running can be up to three-times a runner’s body weight. What the injuries listed above have in common is pain when the foot is on the ground (closed chain), so the exercises to prevent these injuries should be done with your feet on the ground. When you strengthen your hips, you improve the stability of your legs so your body won’t fatigue as quickly. When you don’t fatigue as quickly, your legs can generate more force needed for speed.

Exercises to Prevent Running Injuries And Help You Run Faster

Exercise #1: Strict Lateral Band Walks

Place a mini-band resistance loop around and just above both ankles, keep tension on the band throughout, keep toes pointed straight ahead throughout, keep legs stiff but don’t hyperextend your knees, keep abs tight, take small steps of about 4-6 inches and walk 20 feet in one direction, then walk 20 feet in the opposite direction. Do two laps x 20 feet and begin with light resistance and increase over time.

Exercise #2: Static Lateral Band Taps

Place a mini-band resistance loop around and just above both ankles, perform a mini squat with hip hinge (move buttocks back keeping your knees slightly forward of your ankles), shift your weight to one side and keep your hip/knee/foot in line, then tap other foot out the side 4-6 inches. Do two sets of 20 taps on each side with light resistance and increase over time.

Exercise #3: Strict Lateral Squat Walks

Place a mini-band resistance loop around and just above both ankles, perform a mini squat with hip hinge (move buttocks back keeping your knees slightly forward of your ankles), then walk to one side staying in the mini squat position and be sure to keep your hips/knees/feet in line (don’t let your knees cave in). Do laps of 20 feet with light resistance and increase over time.

Exercise #4: Single Leg Stabilization

Place a one-inch superband resistance loop around secure object at waist height, then place your body inside the loop so the loop is around the outside of one of your hips with light tension, then stand only on the inside leg next to the secure object, then tighten your abs in an upright posture and lift the knee of the leg on the same side of the loop around your hip to 90 deg and repeat 20 times without placing that foot on the ground. Do two sets of 20 reps on each side (be sure to turn around to do the other side).

Exercise #5: Soleus Step Stretch

Stand on step with one foot on the step and place the other foot so your heel is off the step, then gently lower your heel and slightly bend your knee. Do three reps of 30 seconds on each side.

If you simplify and exercise with accuracy, commitment to these exercises of two to three times per week will reduce your chance of injury and help you run faster.

Rob Strachan is a physical therapist and owner of Multisport Rehab & Training in Boston specializing in physical therapy and coaching for endurance athletes.