Now that summer has officially arrived and the sun is (finally) out people are tying up their laces and hitting the pavement. Many banks have their fun runs on and the “friendly” banter around the office is starting to ramp up. The last thing you want is to be the one who talked the big talk then had to pull out last minute! So, here’s Victory’s senior physiotherapist Lauren Taylor with 5 easy exercises that you can do to keep your body active and healthy and give you the edge on your colleagues when you go out running!
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the foam roller should be an essential part of anyone’s maintenance routine, but especially if you want to go running regularly. When you have any change in load, muscles, tendons, and fascia will tighten up. Spending 15 minutes working through your legs will make a power of difference to your recovery! For a full foam roller routine, go back to my previous post.
When we are running we want to have a dynamic ribcage and a flexible shoulder girdle. So the book opener is a great exercise to facilitate thoracic movement, especially rotation. Start by lying on your side with your knees bent and your arms out in front of you. Lift your top hand up and rotate from your spine so that your chest now faces the ceiling. Keep your bottom hand on the ground and aim to really open up across your wingspan. Do this one 5-6 times each side.
This great exercise never gets old, and hits multiple key points for runners:
- The obvious – glute strengthening. So many of us city workers develop a lazy butt, an unfortunate side-effect of sitting for too long stuck in front of a computer! (for a full glute programme, have a look at Nell’s series on the Lazy Bum Epidemic!) If you want to go running, a strong butt will help to prevent injury and will help you to run faster.
- Passively releasing the hip flexors – an under emphasised benefit of the bridge! As you are performing the exercise reach your kneecaps out long towards the end wall, and at the same time imagine your shoulders are extending long through the ground underneath them. This will help achieve a nice lengthening and opening effect of the fascia through the front of the body and especially front of the hip. Try to work the hips into a good neutral position, or even extension. This is harder than you might think, as many people are too tight through their hips, and so they try to compensate with their back instead – but you must keep your low back nice and flat otherwise it might get a bit grumpy!
- Spinal mobility – another underutilised component of the bridge. Due to the above mentioned devil workers’ posture (see the recurrent theme here?!), our backs tend to tighten up and we lose the lovely segmental mobility of our spine, and instead it starts to move in chunks. To work on this, we want to imagine that your back is a pearl necklace, and that as you curl up into your bridge, you are lifting just one pearl off the ground at a time, from your pelvis up to your mid-back. Similarly, as you lower back down you want to replace your spine, one vertebra at a time, back down onto the ground. To begin with this can be very difficult, but with time you will really be able to feel your spine loosen up and become more mobile. You will notice the difference in other aspects of your life as well!
Calf Raises with a knee press into the wall
Like the bridge, this exercise is fantastic for 3, if not 4 things:
- Calf strength – once again, starting with the obvious! Running involves hundreds of repetitions of calf raises, but it’s amazing how many runners fail do do more than 20 in one hit. Weak calves in runners can lead to a plethora of problems, from achilles, to hamstring, to low back issues. This one is an easy one to get some quality reps in.
- Speaking of quality, as you are performing each calf raise, it is a great time to work on your ankle control. Our ankles are a part of the body which can be easily ignored, and yet tons of people have experienced the sensation and consequences of rolling them. Unfortunately, once the injury is no longer painful, people tend to forget the need to rehabilitate it back to normal function, which means that they end up with weak ankles, and a delayed reaction to changes in the ground surface underneath. As you are performing this exercise you want to make sure that your ankle comes straight forward over your big toe, is in control throughout the movement and doesn’t flare to the side.
- Glutes – specifically gluteus medius, with is one of the major stability muscles of your hip. Trust me, if you are holding your pelvis nicely level, you will feel the burn here just as much as your calf!
- The sneaky 4th facet to this is it works your core muscles to keep your body stacked well over the leg.
To perform a calf raise with knee press, stand side-on to a wall or a door frame and lift the inside knee so it is at around 70 degrees from the ground. Rotate your knee outwards so that it gently presses into the wall – but make sure you keep your body square and don’t let it twist away! This is your start position, from here you can begin your set of calf raises, aim to be able to do a good 15-20 of them.
Planks (and all the wonderful variations of these!)
Well known and great for core strength! When you add in variations which incorporate a movement component this is even better. We need to be able to find a neutral spine, and maintain that, but then we also need to be able to cope with change and movement and maintain stability and control. Lifting an arm or a leg can do this, or lifting a leg and bringing it out to the side – take the opportunity to get creative!
For the basic plank, place your elbows below your shoulders, as though you are going to do a push up. Tuck your toes under and lift your knees so that you are straight from your shoulders through to your toes. Make sure you engage your core muscles to support your low back, and stay active through your glutes and legs.
Practising these exercises regularly should help to minimise your risk of injury, and improve your run time if that’s important to you. But if you have an injury, or a serious or urgent goal (beating the boss on the next Parkrun, anyone?) and want some individual advice, come and see Lauren, who specialises in treating running injuries and working with runners to improve their performance. Just call us on 0207 175 0150 and book in for an assessment.