We runners are often bombarded with training advice – do speed work, add hills, do yoga, cross-train, lift light weights, lift heavy weight, etc., etc. If you’re like me, limited time and information overload can quickly lead to feeling overwhelmed and thus leading to doing nothing. Keeping things simple, and focusing on a few key glute, core, and balance exercises has been crucial in rebuilding my body and strength post-injury.
There is no one-size-fits-all cross-training plan, but due to years of physical therapy, I’ve learned a lot of running injuries can stem from weak glutes and tight hips. Between the linear motion of running and all the time we spend sitting on our butts each day, runners are very prone to weak glutes and tight hips. Sitting makes our glutes lazy, and these same lazy glutes are some of the most important muscles we use when we run. Hip mobility and a solid range of motion helps your leg fully extend throughout your gait, which takes tension off of your knees and ankles, ideally decreasing potential for injury.
Quick test – try to do a single leg squat in front of a mirror or just videotape yourself. If you’re like me, your knee will wiggle all over the place. That’s because your glutes aren’t strong enough to hold you steady throughout the motion, but have no fear, the glute squad is here! There are some quick strength exercises you can do to strengthen up that butt and stabilize your legs when you run.
Here’s my post-run routine (takes about 10 minutes to complete after every run) that targets those major glute, core, and hip muscles:
Runner Touches (2-3 rounds, 10-15 reps per side)
Works on: balance, flexibility, glute strength
Start with both feet grounded. Bring your first knee up and hold for 1-2 seconds with your grounded leg slightly bent. Raise your hand opposite to the knee you’re holding up, and lean forward with that hand to touch the ground, bending your grounded knee. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch legs. Be sure to move slowly through the motion, focusing on balance and proper form the whole time.
Single Leg Bridge (2-3 rounds, 10-15 reps per side)
Works on: single-leg glute strength, core
Lay on the ground on your back and bring your feet about 6 inches away from your bottom, with knees pointing up and feet flat on the ground. Send one leg straight out, hovering above the ground. Drive your planted foot into the ground as you push your glutes and core up towards the ceiling. Hold your glutes tight, and focus on activating your glutes and core as you push up. Don’t push up so high that you feel your lower back curving under. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch legs.
Clams (2-3 rounds, 10-15 reps per side)
Works on: glute strength, hip opening
Lay on your right side with your knees bent to a 45 degree angle, knees resting on top of each other. Lift your top leg up without moving your heels, like a hinge. Repeat 10-15 times, then switch sides. To make this more challenging, add a band around your quads.
Dead Bug/Toe Taps (2-3 rounds, 12 reps per side)
Works on: core, hip flexors
Lay on your back with your knees bent at a 90 degree angle and feet hovering. Hold one leg stable, while you send the other leg out straight and hover it above the ground. Bring that leg back in, back to the 90 degree angle, and send your other leg out. Repeat 12 times per side.
Since I know it’s hard to build these extra exercises into your already busy training schedule, here are a few tips that really helped me make this a habit:
- Don’t be embarrassed of doing weird things in public spaces. Stretch in your office or do runner touches on the sidewalk. My neighbors often catch me stretching my calves in the hallway, but I’d rather look weird and be a strong runner!
- Build these exercises in when mileage and training is low. It’s much easier to create a routine when you’re not in the middle of a crazy training cycle.
- Leave extra time for it, even if it means cutting off some distance at the end of your run. Building strength means you’ll be less injury-prone and be able to run for more years of your life!
Again, every little bit helps, so don’t be shy about tossing these into your routine even just once a week. If you have a few fav go-to exercises, comment below! We can all learn from each other to become stronger, injury-free runners!