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Runners get hurt. It’s a sad reality in the sport that we all love. The percentage of runners who get hurt every year is varied, but some estimates have put the figure at an astonishing 70-80%! The vast majority of runners are side-lined by some type of injury every single year and the unfortunate aspect of this situation is that most runners have no idea how to prevent their injuries.
Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to prevent injuries before they even occurred? Of course, that’s impossible. There are numerous factors that contribute to a running overuse injury. But most of the prevention strategies that are commonly known to runners just don’t work. Think about all of the injury prevention tactics that you know about:
- Stretching before a run (pointless)
- Wear the right shoes (what are the “right” shoes?)
- Hydrate well (small impact on injury prevention)
- Take ice baths (too few runners actually do them)
These are all great strategies but it’s hard to determine if they target the root cause of most injuries, which is a lack of strength or a particular muscular imbalance. This is why I’m so bullish on strength work for runners. It can help harden your legs and prevent injuries. And there’s one particular area that potentially contributes to a wide range of runners’ overuse injuries: the hips.
Strong hips stabilize the running gait and enable you to smoothly hop from one leg to the other in a coordinated manner. After all, running is merely a series of one legged hops. If your hips are weak, you can’t stand on one leg very effectively. It’s an important step in developing running coordination and becoming a better-rounded athlete. To help you prevent as many injuries as possible, below are three exercises that can help you develop strong hips. Most of them can be done in a few minutes after you runs in your living room. Spare yourself 10 minutes a few times per week to cut your risk of injury.
Lateral Leg Raises
Lie on your side with a loop of rubber tubing or theraband around your ankles. Lift your left leg to about 45 degrees in a controlled manner, then lower. Start with 10 reps per side and progress until you can reach 30 reps per side.
These one-legged squats help you develop strong hips, glutes, quads, and stabilizing muscles. The key to a successful pistol squat is to not lean forward, keep the motion slow and controlled, and make sure your knee does not collapse inward. If your knee rotates inward toward your other leg, that indicates a weak hip on the active leg. Keep working at it! Start with just 2-4 pistol squats and progress to 10 reps. You can also hold a dumbbell for added difficulty.
Stand on one foot and with your pelvis in a neutral position, drop one side of your pelvis so it is several inches below the other side of your pelvic bone. Using your hip muscle on the leg you’re standing on, lift the lowered side back to its neutral position. Start with 10-15 reps per side and progress to 30. Done a few times a week, these exercises can dramatically increase the strength of your hips and other core stabilizing muscles that have been shown to prevent running injuries. Give yourself 2-3 days after the first time you do these exercises to evaluate your body. Are you sore or fatigued? Continue resting until you feel good again, then start back again with the exercises. After 2-3 cycles, you’ll be ready to do these three times every week.
If you’re healthy and able to train more, then you’re going to be a faster runner. Time to get after it.