Many people love running because of the efficiency of the exercise, all you need is a pair of trainers and right from the start you can squeeze in a great cardio workout in minimal time or go for some endurance work if you have longer. Almost anywhere, at any time.
Running is one of the most natural things in the world for humans to do, toddlers learn to run soon after walking, quickly perfecting the skill. However, running efficiently actually takes a high degree of body awareness, muscular control and core stability which as adults many of us can find ourselves lacking due to years of living in a modern society which promotes sedentary lifestyles, repetitive movements and often limited ranges of motions.
Cross training, doing exercise like yoga or pilates can be the last thing a runner wishes to do, it can feel slow, not sweaty enough and too fussy; however incorporating some yoga or Pilates into your routine can reap huge benefits for runners. Especially as running can be very demanding on the body resulting in many runners finding themselves with an injury at some point or some niggles that just don’t seem to go away. The majority of running injuries come from overload. Adding some Pilates and yoga into your workout can build great foundational strength which can effectively prevent injuries by improving your posture, strengthening your core muscles, improving balance and increasing joint mobility. This can create a greater efficiency in your running stride and gains in running endurance, speed and recovery can then all be made.
Here are my top 5 exercises for runners which especially focus on strengthening the posterior chain, increasing activation of the gluteus muscles as well as the inner and outer thighs and improving mobility of the hips.
1. Hip rolls and variations
Lie on your back with your arms resting long by your side, knees bent and feet flat on the floor hip distance apart, just beyond your sit bones. Initiate the movement by tipping the pelvis in towards the rib cage using the abdominal muscles, when you can roll in no further by just using the abdominals start to push through the feet to raise the hips high, reaching your tailbone towards the back of the knees. Take a deep breath in at the top of the bridge position and then slowly exhale whilst rolling back down to the start position. Repeat 5-10 times.
Hip roll with feet together or squeezing a cushion between your knees, this activates the inner thighs more. Repeat 5-10 times.
Hip roll and hold the hips lifted, add leg floats. Roll up and hold the hips lifted, then shift the weight into your left foot and float the right let up to a table top position (90 degrees bend at the hip and 90 degrees bend knee), then switch the legs over. Keep walking the legs like this whilst keeping the hips lifted and level. Repeat 5-10 times floating each leg up to the table top.
Hip roll with pulses. Roll up and hold the hips lifted then lower the hips halfway to the floor then raise them back up, pulse up and down 10-20 times.
2. One leg circle
Lie on your back, arms long by your side, one leg long pressing down on the mat and the other leg raised straight as possible, toes pointing up at the ceiling. Imagine your big toe has been dipped in paint and you are trying to draw a circle on the ceiling circle the leg 5 times in one direction and then reverse drawing an imaginary circle in the other direction. Work on keeping the head, neck and shoulders relaxed while your abdominals stabilize the torso allowing this isolated movement of the thigh bone in the hip socket. Switch legs.
If you cannot keep the legs straight you can bend the knees and draw an imaginary circle with the knee.
3. Full back extension (locust pose)
Lie face down on the mat, arms extended long by your sides, legs long. Press your pubic bone into the mat and imagine you have an ice cube under your belly button to help engage the abdominal muscles. Inhale, float the upper body up away from the mat raising the arms up behind you to the same height as the shoulders, at the same time float the legs up behind you reaching them as long as possible and pointing the toes away. Exhale lower back to the mat. Repeat 5-10 times.
4. Leg pull
Plank position, press into the right foot and float the left leg up to hip height. Point the left toes to the end of the mat now shift your weight into the heel of the right foot feeling a stretch down the back of the calf. Shift your weight forward again and lower the left foot back to the mat.
Repeat 3 times to each leg.
In a four point kneeling position tuck your toes under and push into your feet to float the knees of the ground. Transfer the weight into one leg as you float the opposite foot of the mat, switch sides.
5. Roll up
Lie on your back, legs pressed together and stretched long, and the arms extended overhead. Inhale, reach your arms towards the ceiling, tuck your chin towards your chest and start to peel the back of your head and shoulders away from the mat. Exhale, whilst continuing to roll up away from the mat and reach forwards towards your toes, pulling your belly button back towards your spine. Feel a stretch all along the back body. Inhale, start to roll back down onto the mat, start the movement form the back of the pelvis and slowly roll your back down, lastly reaching your arms long overhead. Repeat 5 times.
Bend the knees, keeping feet flat on the mat.
Anchor the feet under the edge of the sofa or get someone to hold the feet.
So, if you run and want to stay injury free or improve your performance try giving these exercises a go. Take a few minutes once or twice a week to add them into your routine and see if you start to feel the difference. Consistency is key to gaining good results!