Pilates teacher and founder of Fluidform Pilates Kirsten King shares why runners ~really~ need to ensure they’re balancing all those kilometres on the road with strengthening and lengthening on the mat.
Imbalances, tightness and lack of mobility in the lower body is unfortunately common amongst regular runners.
And the main offenders when it comes to injuries? Feeling a sharp pain in your foot and around your heels (plantar fasciitis), pain between your hips and knees (AKA ITB syndrome), pain down the back of your legs (sciatica) and a general lack of rotation and strength in your hips and torso are all injuries that plague those who love to pound the pavement.
Ouch! Sound familiar?
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Why does this happen?
These injuries are typically a result of not properly correcting imbalances, or rehabbing past injuries. We often find someone’s running style to be off balance or overusing particular muscles, which over time places strain on your muscles and joints. When you don’t activate your glutes your hips and legs overcompensate; putting pressure on your hip joint, knees, ankles and feet.
This can be avoided by strengthening your stabilising muscles to support your joints. You also need to fix muscle imbalances to ensure you are activating and strengthening muscles across your entire body, rather than overusing single muscles.
Other things to consider are warming up before a run, firing up the muscles to support your joints, finding supportive and properly-fitted running shoes, taking in some uneven surfaces and of course your post-run recovery.
Stretch your runner’s foot
A runner’s foot moves through different ranges of flexion and extension, as well as supination (rolling outwards) and pronation (rolling inwards). To run well and efficiently, your foot needs the strength and mobility to move through the full range, preventing sprains and injuries.
Try adding this to your post-run recovery; in a standing position, bend both knees with one slightly in front of the other, your back heel lifted.
Bending your knees further, move your back foot in all directions.
Work through flexing, pointing, rotating outwards and inwards. Stay stable in your front leg and focus on strengthening and mobilising your back foot.
This will build strength in your calves and feet, and mobility in your ankles.
Try a similar flexing motion with your front foot against a wall, increasing the intensity of the stretch. [image above right]
Lengthen your runner’s hip
Your hip extensors are the strong, powerful muscles that help with propulsion (driving forward). Your hip flexors work to move the leg forward. All your deep muscles of the pelvis maintain a stable hip and leg position as you move. Weakness and imbalance in your hips can cause pain in your back, hips and knees, impacting your ability to run efficiently.
Hip flexor stretches are a great way to open up your hips and create length from your hips down the front of your thigh.
Start in a low lunge position, with your back knee on the ground, your front knee in a right ankle.
Drift forward, tracking over your front knee, feeling the stretch down your side from your pelvis to your back knee.
Lift both arms above your head and gently look up and back. Release slowly and repeat three times on both sides. [see image above left].
Strengthen your runner’s knee
Knees are often the source of pain for runners. Knees require stability to absorb impact, and mobility to support flexion and extension.
In a seated position (on a chair), extend one leg long from your knee.
Imagine you are pulling up through your thigh, rather than your knee. Then relax down.
Stay tall through your torso and you should feel this above your knee and in your lower abs, working to stabilise your upper body as you move your legs.
Mobilise your runner’s torso
Moving to your upper body – respiration, positioning, rotation and pelvic stability all contribute to your running performance. A tall, strong and mobile torso improves your breathing and rotation and helps to alleviate tension in your neck and shoulders. A lengthened and aligned spine helps to absorb the impact of each stride, taking pressure out of hips, knees and feet.
A mermaid stretch will help to open your hips and create length through your torso
Start seated, both legs bent with your leg foot beside you, right foot in front of you and both knees on the ground. Your arms stretched out long either side of you.
Inhale and as you exhale, lift up through your torso as you raise your right arm up and over your head, tilting your body over to the left side.
Hold for two breaths. Find length through your side, obliques and expansion in your ribcage.
Draw your lifted arm forward towards the front of your left knee and feel the back of your ribcage open up further.
Return to centre before coming back up, repeat three times on each side.
Our Rise & Restore 21-Day Challenge involves daily workouts to strengthen, mobilise and stabilise your entire body, while improving your balance and coordination. You will feel a difference to your running performance, improving every stride and preventing injuries you are prone to as a runner.
Kirsten King is a Sydney-based qualified Pilates teacher, and founder of Fluidform Pilates. Read more about Pilates for runners here.
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