3 Exercises You Can Do to Help Prevent a Running Injury

man going for a morning run outside

Man running on a road | Source: iStock

Runners sport black toenails with a bit of pride. They’re sort of like war wounds that show dedication and a willingness to push through the discomfort of a long, grueling run. A discolored nail here or there isn’t that big of a deal, but things become problematic when aches starts showing up in your shins, ankles, knees, or hips. Try to push through that kind of pain, and you’ll find yourself sidelined pretty fast. And it’s not just newbies who are at risk. Even professional Meb Keflezighi has suffered his fare share of injuries, including a massive tear in his quad that almost ended his career.

Instead of leaving it up to chance, take a more proactive approach with your training. The Cheat Sheet spoke to Dr. Jordan Metzl, a sports medicine physician at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery and creator of the Ironstrength workout, about strategies runners can use to keep themselves pain free. “There’s a reason why injuries happen pretty much every single time, so the key thing is trying to figure out why that injury happened and ceasing the cause,” Metzl said. Frequently, the intense pounding of running every day comes into play.

“In my training plans for people, I have them run a maximum of four days a week — maybe five,” Metzl said. It’s advice he follows for his own workouts, enabling him to successfully compete in marathons and triathlons. “I’m an every day exerciser, but not an every day runner,” he added. He’s not alone in his approach, either. Many athletes incorporate regular cross-training into their routines as a way to stay healthy. Verywell said resorting to other forms of exercises will help challenge other muscle groups, prevent overuse injuries, and help you avoid mentally burning out. For runners, cross-training routines often include biking, using the elliptical trainer, or swimming, but it can be just about any cardiovascular activity.

Another big piece of the injury-prevention puzzle has to do with strength, and we’re not talking about pumping iron at the gym. Many of the best strengthening routines for runners require nothing more than your own body weight. For Metzl, that means a regular routine of plyometric exercises, dynamic moves that build power by forcing your muscles to lengthen and contract. “It’s all about using functional body weight,” he said.

While not every injury stems from weak muscles, many of them do. Runners often fall prey to the same pains, because they’re all going through the same general motion. By targeting those wimpy body parts, you’ll get stronger, reduce your risk of hurting yourself, and maybe even work your way toward a new personal best. Metzl recommended these three moves to help you out. Get ready to say so long to that aching iliotibial band.

1. Plyometric Jump Squats

squats

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You probably think about your calves, quads, and hamstrings as the essential components for running. Those muscles are definitely crucial for powering through the home stretch, but so is your butt. Usually neglected by runners, your backside is just as important as any of those other muscle groups. According to Active.com, weak glutes can lead to shin splints, Achilles tendinitis, iliotibial band syndrome, and runner’s knee. While regular squats will help strengthen these muscles, jump squats will build strength a lot faster. And this move is a great multitasker, because it also works your quads, core, hamstrings, and calves.

To perform jump squats, begin with your feet shoulder-width apart. You can either lightly place your fingers behind your head, or extend your arms straight out in front of you. Squat down until your butt is even with your knees, then jump straight into the air, and land lightly on the balls of your feet. Avoid bracing your knees as you land, because you want to go right into another squat after each repetition. Check out Metzl’s video to get started.

2. Plyometric Jump Lunges

walk, lunge

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As we mentioned before, glutes need a lot more love from runners. Jump lunges also do a great job of strengthening this under-appreciated muscle group, but they offer some benefits you won’t get from jump squats. About Health explained this vigorous lunge exercise will also challenge your quads, hip flexors, and sense of balance. According to Runner’s World, weak hip flexors are another common culprit behind a host of other injuries, because our bodies compensate for that weakness by compromising other muscles.

Begin standing with your feet together, then step your right leg forward into the lunge position, with your knee at a 90-degree angle. As you step into the lunge, swing your left arm forward, keeping your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle, and swing your right arm back in the same way. From this keeled position, jump straight into the air, and switch your legs and arms so that you land with your left leg and right arm in front. Exercise.com’s video shows how to perform the move. Take your time with this one, because it really does challenge your balance, and you don’t want to risk a sprained ankle.

3. Planks

planks, gym

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Unlike the first two moves, planks are an isometric exercise, which means there’s no movement involved. Of all the stationary strength moves, planks are probably among the best. Livestrong likes them because they strengthen just about every part of your midsection. While plenty of people seek out core-strengthening moves for aesthetic reasons, they’re critical for keeping runners injury-free. DailyBurn explained having a strong midsection keeps your body stable and helps you maintain your form when you get tired, so you’ll be less likely to hurt yourself. You could even start to see an improvement in your race times.

For the classic, get into a push-up position, resting on your forearms instead of your hands. Keep your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle, and hold your body in a straight line. The move becomes more difficult the longer you hold it, so the real challenge is maintaining form. As with most exercises, it’s better to go shorter with the correct position than longer with bad posture. Men’s Fitness demonstrates a perfect example, and offers some tips on how to increase the intensity.

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