As any runner knows, injuries are part of the sport. According to a running injury review, the average runner can expect somewhere between 2–12 injuries to occur for every 1,000 hours of running. Now, the extent and seriousness of the injury may vary, but the majority are related to your knees.
Imagine, though, if there was a way to reduce the occurrence of running injuries — and if it was as easy as conducting two simple strengthening exercises every day. Well, after more than a decade of research, that’s precisely what Dr. Reed Ferber, director at the Running Injury Clinic at the University of Calgary, has discovered.
WEAK HIPS ARE TO BLAME
What Ferber discovered in the 14 years since opening the clinic is it’s the constant shifting our center of balance that plays a big role in running injuries because “running is essentially an act of losing and regaining your balance,” he explains.
A white paper the clinic published on the topic details how a runner’s center of mass moves in three directions while running: upwards, forwards and outwards. Our leg muscles are good at handling the upward and forward motion. However, the outward motion gets us in trouble. Our hips are responsible for dealing with it but, as a 2005 study found, if they’re too weak to do the job, various injuries from shin splints to runner’s knee occur.
READ MORE > 3 EXERCISES FOR BETTER FOOT STRIKE
As the white paper details, in order to figure out how to treat these injuries, the Running Injury Clinic conducted a study in 2006 that involved more than 300 patients with injuries consisting of shin splints, patellofemoral pain syndrome (PFPS) and IT band syndrome. After undergoing a hip-strengthening rehab program, a whopping 92% of them reported a 75% improvement in pain. Piggybacking off this work, the clinic published a paper in the Journal of Athletic Training that showed hip strengthening not only resolves running injuries, but it can prevent them, too.
Ferber suggests a dual approach to injury prevention, “I advocate for both an upstream and downstream approach to preventing injuries. If the hips can’t do the job, the next muscles in line are the ankle muscles. Having strong hip and ankle muscles isn’t going to prevent all injuries, of course, but having strong musculature [in those two places] is what provides more flexibility to make training errors without them turning into a full-blown injury,” Ferber explains.
TWO EXERCISES TO PREVENT INJURY
According to Dr. Ferber and the injury prevention plan the clinic published, all it takes to gain hip and ankle strength is a couple of exercises.
The goal is to work up to 3 sets of 10 every day, after or well before any run (if you do them too soon before a run you risk muscle fatigue and subsequent injury). Follow a four-day ramp up: one set the first day, two sets on the second and third days and three sets on the fourth day and every day thereafter.
1. HIP ABDUCTOR STRENGTHENING
For this exercise, you’ll need a resistance band. Tie it to something that doesn’t move and slip your outside leg into the band while placing the other one behind it. Keeping your knee straight, move your leg outward. Take two seconds to move out and two seconds to move back, controlling the motion throughout.
2. HEEL RAISES
This exercise is about as simple as it gets. Stand on something sturdy that’s off the ground (even a stack of old textbooks will work!) with the back halves of your feet hanging off. Raise up onto your toes, taking two seconds to raise up and two seconds to lower back down. The key is to control the motion the entire time — don’t let inertia take over.