Run better, reduce injuries, with strength training
To do justice to your running, reduce injuries and run optimally, you need to do strength training. Regularly. As much as “experts” over the years have been blaming running for injuries, it is not running that causes them, but a person’s poor form. Strength training will help you to run better.
Let’s get moving with my favourite exercises for all runners. I have shortlisted these over almost two decades after helping runners of all levels to run better and avoid injuries. These exercises can be done anywhere.
Toe-curl walk: Twenty-five percent of all the bones in your body are in the feet but then wearing shoes for decades have made them all to function as a platform. This makes the small muscles of the feet and the foot arches very weak. Take off your socks and shoes. Stand. Start with the right leg first. Only using your toes to move forward. You will move only an inch or less. Now repeat with the other foot.
Heel raises: Most runners try to run with their knees when it’s the feet, knees and hips that should work in sync while running. Calf muscles of most people have become weak because of sitting for long hours and wearing shoes with heels, irrespective of gender. It’s preferable to do this exercise without shoes but can be done with shoes too. Go up on your toes slowly, raising your heels off the ground. Hold that pose for a second or two and then slowly come down.
Chair squats: Even if runners do strength training, most of them ignore strengthening their quadriceps (the front thigh muscles). Start by putting a stable chair without wheels a foot behind you. Keep your feet shoulder width apart. Think of an imaginary line on the ground. When you squat, your knees shouldn’t cross that line. Now slowly take your butt down and let it gently touch the chair, and then come up slowly.
Glutes activation: Butt muscles are the most ignored but one of the most important muscles for running. Over long hours of sitting over decades, the butt muscles have become inactive in almost all of us. Lie down on the tummy. Bend the right knee at 90 degrees angle. Slowly raise it up by an inch or two. Hold for a second. Slowly bring your thigh down. Repeat with the other leg.
Orange squeeze: Courtesy sitting for long hours in front of the computer and or using smartphones for long hours, our postures have gone for a toss, leading to a weak middle back. This compromises the expansion capacity of the lungs, which further compromises our running. Start by sitting tall and raising your hands up while your elbows are bent at a 90 degrees angle. Imagine there is an orange in between your shoulder blades (at the lower end of the shoulder blades). Now slowly pull your elbows back as if to crush that orange. Hold that position for a second or two, as if squeezing the juice out of the orange.
Do 15-25 repeats of all these exercises in one set. Do four-five sets in a day. Even on days that you miss running, do strength training. These exercises take 2-3 minutes each.
As for walking-running combination, start with a 4-minute walk, followed by a 2-minute run. Repeat four-six times in a day. During walking, take long, deep breaths. Do the exercises four-six days in the second week.
This is the second in an eight-part series to motivate people to take up running in the correct way.
Rajat Chauhan is sports exercise and musculoskeletal medicine physician and race director of La Ultra—The High held in Ladakh. He has authored The Pain Handbook: A Non-Surgical Way To Managing Back, Neck And Knee Pain.