Arifa graduated in 2005 from the University of Cape Town in South Africa with a Bachelor’s Degree in Physiotherapy. Her passion for working with people and improving their health motivated her choice in the Allied Health field. She has had extensive working experience in both Botswana and Canada. As a keen runner and cyclist, she understands the biomechanics and demands involved in these sports and has developed a keen interest in treating sports injuries. She was always sporty as a child but now more than ever realises the important benefits of sport in adulthood. She doesn’t advocate for any particular sport but believes we need to move our bodies and do something we enjoy to combat today’s lifestyles in front of the computer. I’m delighted to have her guest blogging for me in a series called, “Physio’s Corner”.
Running is an extremely popular and well-loved sport. It is such a great way to keep fit and healthy and is open to people of all levels and ages. However, if not done correctly, it can lead to injuries, and if there is anything runners hate, it’s being side-lined because of injury! I’ve put together some great tips to help you prevent injuries and I’ve added five important exercises that you can include as part of your strength regime for happier and healthier running.
Key Tips To Help You Avoid Injury
Adapt Gradually. Give your body time to adapt by increasing your mileage gradually. The general rule is to increase your mileage by 10% weekly. However, in saying that, it is important to listen to your body and rest when needed. As a Physio, I see many injuries from people who go from zero to a hundred in a short space of time. If we overload the tissues beyond their capabilities, we end up with injuries, therefore, adaptation is key and is a gradual process.
Rest And Recuperate. Rest and recovery is just as crucial as your training days. Just as your body needs to adapt to training load, recovery helps to give your body the much needed rest to continue training at its best, allowing you to reach your full potential. It is also important to have a good night’s sleep as this will improve general performance and aid in recovery.
Strength Train. Strength training is a must in every runner’s regime. Even adding two weekly strength sessions will go a long way in improving your body’s ability to use energy efficiently and build strength to avoid those injuries. As a Physio, implementing a strength regime for my injured runners has improved their performance over time. As a runner myself, I have exceeded my own expectations by incorporating strength sessions as part of my routine.
Last, But Not Least, Train Smart! Try not to schedule tough training sessions back to back. Spread the load over the course of the week. A recovery week every 4 – 6 weeks is also ideal to give the body time to recover and adapt.
Five Exercises To Strengthen Leg Muscles
These are some of my favourite exercises targeting those muscles that are so important for running! It is important to consult your physiotherapist for specific exercises and to make sure your form is great whilst doing them. It’s good to start with bodyweight and focus on form. As your strength builds up, weights can be added to challenge those muscles more. The exercises we will look at today focus on the glutes, quadriceps, hamstrings and the calf complex.
This is a great exercise targeting the glutes and quads which work hard during the loading phase of running. Remember form is very important – keep a neutral head position, straight back, knees behind the toes and weight on your heels. As you get stronger, you’ll be able to go deeper.
Deadlift/ Romanian Deadlift
This is perfect for a hamstring focus. Hamstrings are a key muscle group controlling the leg during the swing phase of running and take on a huge load when we add sprinting and hills. When performing a deadlift, lift the weights by driving the hips forward keeping the back straight, and lower the weights by hinging the hips backwards. If you use weights, it’s important to keep weights close to your legs as in this video. This one shows a deadlift without weights.
For heel raises (straight knee and bent knee), it’s good to start on both feet and progress over time to single leg. The bent knee variation is extremely important as it focuses on the deeper muscle of the calf complex which is a serious workhorse for running but often forgotten. This video gives a good demonstration of these exercises. You can also do this exercise in a sitting position as shown here with a weight above the knee.
Lateral Band Walks
This is an awesome exercise for the glutes specifically the glute medius which is a tiny muscle within the glute complex that takes on a huge load when running. It is simple but so effective as it can be performed almost anywhere, only requiring a resistance band. Here is a demo.
This is wonderful for the glutes. Strength work focusing on the glutes helps stabilize the pelvis. You can start on both legs as Shathiso here and later progress to a single leg bridge.
With all the excitement that we get from running – the rush of getting to a certain distance or hitting a specific pace – it’s easy to forget or neglect some of the basics. But we have to keep in mind that our bodies, as capable and incredible as they are, are not machines – they need time to gradually build up endurance or speed as well as time to rest and recuperate. Also, doing simple yet effective strength exercises targeting specific muscle groups helps to make us stronger and fitter runners, and most importantly, free from injury!