Do you get lost in all of the exercise that is shared out there on social media? Do you know you should be doing exercises to make you a better runner, but you’re not sure what you should be doing? We’re here to answer those questions and give you the best exercises to do in order to get stronger, faster and healthier as a runner.
These exercises are going to be the specific exercises that are going to translate to your specific activity, which is running. The exercises that we’re going to be talking about in this article are really following two principles — training with your foot on the ground and on one leg.
Click the video below to hear the LIVE training I did on this topic within the Healthy Runner Facebook Group
The last 3 blog articles we have been talking about the SPARK Blueprint and we’ve been discussing five principles. We’ve discussed the foundation of how to run stronger and healthier without injuries by strengthening 5 KEY RUNNING muscles and we talked about adding plyometric or jump exercises into our training.
In regards to last week’s blog post – With jump training and plyometric exercise we want to be cautious that it is always pain free. This means you should not be having any pain when adding in plyometric actions. Meaning you shouldn’t have active low back pain, active knee pain because that is going to aggravate your condition. Plyometric or jump training exercises should only be performed when you’re not having any current pain.
How often you should be performing this plyometric training? You want to do less reps. You’re not going to your traditional three sets of 10 reps that you would do with strength training. You are going to be looking at less volume. You’re going to look for quality, not quantity, and maybe start out with 6-8 repetitions. If you’re a beginner, beginner and you’ve never done jump training before, start out with one set of each of the Level 1 exercises.
If you’ve done some jump training before, then think about doing 2 sets or possibly building up to 3 sets, and you’re only going to do these once a week. These are not going to be performed every day or every other day, three times a week; just ONCE a week. That’s all you need to keep your body healthy as we talked about and reap all the benefits of jump training!
Let’s get into today’s content!
So, have you felt overwhelmed with the amount of exercise that’s out there? Whether or not you went to physical therapy before in the past and you may have continued some exercises because you were given them. When you had your Achilles Tedinitis, you had your plantar fasciitis, and you just thought, I did these exercises to get rid of my problem. Maybe I should just continue them forever. Or you picked up one of those fitness magazines at your doctor’s office one day and you started taking pics of them and now you’re overwhelmed with these exercises on YouTube.
There is a rationale for why I’m recommending the exercise that I am for you. And hopefully you will see that. So why did I include this kind of training with your foot on the ground? These exercises are also referred to as weight bearing or closed chain exercises that we are talking about adding into your training. These exercises are often missed in a lot of the runners that I see. If a runner is doing strength training, it usually consists of doing a couple machines at the gym or maybe doing some squats, and maybe doing some dead lifts.
If you are doing weight bearing exercises, then most likely they are occurring on two legs. I rarely ever actually see a runner adding and incorporating exercises when they are on one leg. Think about the demands we talked about this last week in the jump training blog post. Think about the demands. When you’re running, your foot is hitting the ground, your muscles are lengthening and then rapidly contracting back up right when your foot hits the ground, so your foot hitting the ground and your muscles have to pop back up and you’re on one leg the whole time.
If you’re on one leg the whole time when you’re running, then it makes sense to actually train your muscles when you’re standing on one leg. Training on one leg and training with your foot on the ground is really going to be specific to the activity you do as a runner.
This really goes back to a principle that is not really that complex, but a principle that you learn about if you’ve ever taken an exercise science class. It’s the principle of specificity. This principle of specificity states that sports training should really be relevant and appropriate to the sport that the individual is actually doing in order to produce the desired effect.
Some also call this the SAID principal or the specific adaptation to impose demand. In strength training, we talk about it and the SAID principal, where strength exercises are often quite specific to the actual type of training that you perform. In other words, your strength gains are the greatest when you’re actually doing the specific activity. If you’re looking to max out on a squat, then you’re not going to do a seated leg extension machine for your quad muscles. In order to max out on your squat, you actually have to train the squat and build up the resistance over time…build up your strength, all of your power, in order to actually get a higher max for your squat, right? I think that probably makes sense to most people.
The other example I can give you is myself. I’m a runner. I’m definitely not a swimmer (I’m a sinker). If you tried to get me in the pool and swim, it will not look pretty. I also don’t cycle, so I haven’t been on a bike and probably over 10 years. I could remember, though, when I used to take a spinning class or if those of you who have ever taken a spinning class and you haven’t in a while but you’ve been training in the gym, you’ve been doing squats. You’re doing exercise daily. Maybe you’ve been running, but you take a spinning class and your quads are so sore or your hamstrings are sore because that specific activity you’ve been doing was not specific to cycling or spinning.
Same thing goes for running. If you’ve been training in the gym, you’ve been cycling, and then you go outside on the road and you start running, you’re going to end up being seriously sore. Your quads are going to be sore. Your side hip abductor muscles are going to be sore. Switching from the training that you’ve been doing, to doing something totally different like jumping into running is going to surprise your muscles. That’s like a shock to the system. You have that spark to the system. So, that is really that “SAID principal”.
Every step you take as a runner, your foot is hitting the ground, you’re reacting to the pavement. So, doesn’t it make sense that you should actually train your exercises to benefit you when you’re in that single leg stance and throughout your run?
I’m going to get into the five benefits of why you should be doing them. The first benefit of closed kinetic chain or weight bearing exercises is going to be that they work multiple joints at the same time. Let’s compare and contrast to using the seated knee extension machine in the gym.
You’re kicking your legs up and down, working your quad muscles on the front of your thighs, right? Let’s compare that exercise to a lunge. You’re moving forward. You’re moving from your hip joint, your knee joint and your ankle joint working multiple joints as opposed to working joints in isolation, as would be with an open chain exercise, which is that seated knee extension machine.
With the lunge, you’re utilizing multiple joints, while with the seated knee extension, you’re really only utilizing your knee. That’s point number one for benefits of training on 1 leg: Multiple joints versus single joints.
The second benefit is you are going to get simultaneous activation of your muscles, that we call that a co-contraction. When you’re doing, a squat, you’re getting co-contraction of your quad muscles in the front of the thigh and your hamstring muscles in the back your thigh to actually stabilize your knee joint.
This stabilization helps to stabilize that knee and it can be felt to be more stable which could put less stress to your knee joint. For those of you who have knee pain or you have any degenerative changes in your knee this something really important that you will want to focus on.
The more you strengthen your muscles around your knee, you get that co contraction, the less stress to the actual joint.
So, that’s point number two. You’re going to get that co-contraction of muscles on both sides of the joint.
The third benefit is going to be focused on improving your balance and your postural control. We’re working your balance and postural control system because your foot’s on the ground!
Think about your anatomy for a second. Your “foot bone” connects to your ankle bone. The ankle bone connects to the shin bone, and so on and so forth (you’re welcome for getting that song stuck in your head). Right now, we’re thinking about your foot as that what controls your whole balance system, right? There are muscles on the bottom of your foot that help to support this. You have a whole postural control system that is well beyond the scope of this post. Regardless, your brain sends signals down to your muscles and that controls how we stand and how we balance.
We are working the whole kinetic chain, so we’re working everything in conjunction – just like when you’re running. If you’re a novice runner, and I’ve seen that a lot of novice runners have, technique issues as well as alignment issues. This means they may have poor postural alignment and balance control which may cause constant pain.
For example, if you’re a big over pronator and your foot rolls in, then we know you have a really flat arch. That’s going to affect your alignment as you work up the chain to the shin bone and to the knee. Over pronating is going to cause your knee to go in, especially when we get to that training on one leg.
This is why you’re going to want to strengthen the muscles in your foot, in your ankle, in your lower leg and in your hip. By doing so, you’re going to end up with more control of the postural control system we’ve discussed.
Going back to what we discussed a little earlier, you’re going to want to actually tap in to strengthening on one leg because if you’re just doing that seated knee extension, you would not be able to tap into that system and improve your postural control as well as your balance.
The benefit of closed chain weight bearing exercises that is especially important for you female runners is bone health. That goes back to bone density, especially if you are postmenopausal or if you’ve had a history of stress fractures. If this is you, then you may have osteopenia, which means that your bones are weak but not to the point of having osteoporosis. Osteoporosis, which literally means porous bone, is where you have significantly low bone density and you’re at a greater risk for fractures.
Believe it or not, weight bearing exercises are actually going to help load your bones to strengthen them. Because your foot is on the ground in a closed kinetic chain weight bearing exercise, there are forces that come up from the ground and go up your long bones. This means the forces are going to your tibia and then your femur bone.
The major take away here is that you want to do weight bearing exercises – especially for females, especially post menopausal, just to prevent yourself from getting osteopenia and then suffering a fracture later in life. Running is a great activity to stimulate that bone, in contrast to doing something like cycling or swimming. You don’t really get that stimulation to the bones as you would with a closed kinetic chain exercise.
Obviously, swimming and biking have their other benefits. I’m not saying they’re not great activities. They are. From a cross training perspective for us, there is a cardiovascular standpoint as well as offloading the joints, if you have any degenerative conditions. Then sometimes that’s more well tolerated. So not knocking swimming and biking, but for bone health running and weight bearing exercise is going to be the best.
All right, last benefit! The last benefit to weight bearing exercises and single leg exercises is that they’re functionally oriented. What do I mean by that?
When do you ever think about what you’re doing during your everyday activities? Whether you’re at home playing with the kids, whether at work, if you’re at the gym with the leg extension machine, that quad machine, when you kick up and down – I want you to think – when do you ever actually do that activity, that movement, in everyday life?
The point is that it’s not really what we call functional. It’s great for isolation, and I’m not to say that the seated extension machine should never be done. However, those exercises have their place, especially after surgery. You want to isolate and build up your quads to kind of get them activated, but you need to progress it. However, that’s not something functional to every day life because you’re never really required to kick your knee out like that to perform a daily activity.
Let’s think about a squat. Think about how we get up from a chair? Well, we squat, right? You want to train your muscles to be able to function, to help you get up from a chair, get up from a toilet, go up and down stairs.
Another example, a step up exercise. This is going to help you functionally as this translates to your everyday activities. By doing step-up exercises, when you’re going up and down the stairs, you’re not going to get that mid- calf pain. You’re not getting that Achilles pain, you’re not getting that plantar fasciitis type pain because you’ve been training those muscles functionally to get you through those motions.
So we talked about the benefits. Well, how do you actually do these? What should you be doing as a runner? We’re going to discuss 3 actionable exercises that you could be doing as a runner!
Exercise number one is going to go back to our strength training for runner discussion (Click THIS LINK to read the blog article) in our first tip for healthy running. One of the most important muscle groups we talked about was the external rotators of your hip, which really control the alignment of your knee cap. These are very, very important to strengthen, especially for our female runners.
This first exercise is going to be called “taps and circles”. You’re going to be doing them standing with a little mini band around your knees and you’re going to be tapping with one foot while keeping your knees straight forward. Check out this video on how to perform this exercise below!
Another important muscle we discussed is the gluteus medius muscle. This is one of the hip abductors on the side of your hip which is super important because that keeps your pelvis level when you’re running as you are in that single leg stance position.
There are many different exercises you can do for this muscle. A good starting point is hip drops because it really requires you to control your pelvis, like when you’re running. When you run, you want to keep your pelvis level and this exercises teachers that you must slowly lower your pelvis down and then contract it to bring it up slowly and then repeat. You can start the hip progression by first doing an exercise called the “humbler”. (Click HERE for the humbler video!)
With the humbler exercise, you should be feeling on the side of your hip, so make sure you’re feeling on the side of your hip. That’s where you should be really feeling it. That’s how you’re going to know if you’re doing it correctly. Remember, the strengthening exercises you should be focusing on, you should be feeling in the muscles. You want to make sure that you’re feeling it in those muscles that you’re firing. If you’re not, then you’re probably not doing it right. You’re overcompensating or you’re just using momentum and kind of flailing your leg around instead of activating and focusing on specific muscles. You want to make sure you’re firing and holding the muscle and then slowly coming out of it. That goes for all of the exercises that we are discussing today!
This will help you get that gluteus medius muscle firing. If you’re doing that right you’re going to get some serious burning on the side of your hip. From there, you progress to the weight bearing hip drop exercise. Check out how to perform the standing stability exercise and then the progression to the hip drop exercise in the video below!
The next exercise you can do for a weight bearing exercise is a reverse lunge into a single leg stance as a progression. Now we’re working your glutes as well as your quads. If we remember from that first strength training discussion that we did want to make sure you strengthen your quads and your glutes. This is very important!
But I also like to do this variation. It’s not just a standard lunge. You could do walking lunges as well. I like to do those and kind of hold for a second at the top. This I hold for a second at the top, and the other hip goes in flexion like it does during running.
You can do these lunges in all three planes of movement. You can do them rotationally. You do them as side lunges. You can do them in multiples planes of movement, not just staying in one plane and movement. When you’re doing an open kinetic chain exercise or an exercise in a machine, you’re stuck in one plane and our bodies actually move in three plans of movement. When you think about that foot and ankle joint. It doesn’t only move up and down, it moves side to side and it does rotation. We call those the three planes of movement and these closed kinetic chain exercises we’ve been discussing move in all three of those planes.
So again, you want your exercises to look like you are when you’re running. That means that you’re using your muscles the way they should be used when you’re running. Click THIS LINK for a bonus video of an explosive lunge exercise I love to add for my runners to work more those type II muscle fibers for explosive power!
So remember to keep this context, this tip number three within our SPARK Blueprint!
Over the next two blog posts we’re going to get into why it’s important for you to routine self-mobility care or soft tissue care as well as the fifth healthy tip of focusing on being consistent and training smart!
We covered why you should be training on one leg and why you should be training with your foot on the ground. Basically, because of the specificity principle, the SAID training principle that we outlined and then we talked about the benefits of adding in these exercises, which is going to be multiple joint involvement, moving in all three planes of movement.
Benefit number two, co-contraction of your muscles on both sides of the joint. Quads and hamstrings stabilizing your knee was the example we gave that improves that joint stability. The third benefit was to improve your balance and postural control. The fourth was bone health, especially if you’re a female. Bone health is key, especially if you have a family history of osteopenia or osteoporosis. If your aunts, grandmothers, mothers have had osteopenia, fracture of the hip, or fractures in general you want to be conscious of this. You want to prevent those from happening and you want to make sure your bones are in good health. The fifth point today was functionally oriented, meaning your exercises actually look like the activities you’re doing in and around your house and when you’re exercising and when you’re playing sports and when you’re running! That’s what we love to do and we want to stay healthy while running! We don’t want to be injured. We want to be able to train for 1/2 marathons and feel strong and healthy.
Again, so today we focused on those five benefits and then I gave you 3 actionable exercises (and a bonus) to implement into your training so you can start getting beyond the machines!
Thank you for taking the time to read and stay active, stay healthy, and just keep running!
Until next time guys, thanks for stopping by!
– Duane Scotti, PT, DPT, PhD, OCS
Do you want the learn what your body should be doing for Prehab like these exercises in order to stay healthy for your next half marathon?
At SPARK Physical Therapy , we have a unique treatment approach that focuses on solving these problems with our clients.
Our goal is to find the root cause of your previous running injuries and design a specific prehab program for your body in order to prevent that hamstring pain, achilles pain, or shin splints from coming back.
We do this by analyzing your running technique with video analysis and then take you through a full movement analysis and combine that information with your traditional muscle length, strength, and mobility tests to design a program that is specific to your body.
I have a commitment to you the runner at SPARK Physical Therapy
There are no long waits or multiple trips to providers’ offices every week.
I see you in a gym setting at a time that is convenient with your schedule.
One on one for a full hour with myself (a doctor of physical therapy, every visit.)
I provide you with a customized plan specifically designed for you, based off your unique injury and goals.
Full transparency in what you pay. You will never get a bill from us a couple of months after your visit.
Access and availability to you! Have a question about your pain or exercise program? You get an answer from me directly.
If you’re in the greater Hamden, CT area that has been dealing with pain or is looking to be proactive in your health of running and not reactive, I would love the opportunity to help! I’d love to chat for a few minutes and see if you are a good fit for how I help people. Fill in this CONTACT REQUEST LINK and we’ll set up a free 20-minute phone consultation with a doctor of physical therapy.
A special thanks goes out to Allie Eldridge, SPT for her contributions to this article
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“I first went to Duane prior to training for my first full marathon because I had some aches and pains from running that I wanted to sort out. Duane was able to diagnose the problems immediately and I went home pain free. The exercises he prescribed were personalized to my needs and within a few weeks, I felt stronger and pain free while running so I could get to healthy training! It’s great to have a physical therapist who understands athletes and encourages people to continue to stay active. I highly recommend Duane to any person who is looking to stay healthy while maintaining an active lifestyle!”
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