Strike A Pose - Strengthening

In addition to doing posture-enhancing stretches, you will need to strengthen your lower abdominals, hamstrings, glutes, quads and rotators of the hip, in the functional movement patterns that allow the muscles of the legs and core to work together. You should perform the exercises below two or three times a week, either on a day that you are not running, or after you have run. The following exercise series is recommended by corrective exercise specialist and performance running coach Chris Maund, who works at the CHEK Institute in San Diego, California.

Belt Squats

Sit on a bench with your knees at 90 degrees. Place your feet shoulder-width apart with the toes pointed out slightly and the knees directly aligned above your second toes. Take a belt and position it around both thighs, keeping your legs in the same position. Keep the belt in this same position when you start your squats. Begin with a barbell across the front of your shoulders with the arms crossed and elbows kept high. From here, take a diaphragmatic inward breath (as described in the lower-abdominal exercises), hold the air in your lungs and then draw the belly button inwards. This position will protect your spine through the exercise.

Ball Squats

This exercise should be performed with the same form as the belt squats, but using a ball between the knees instead of a belt around them. This recruits the internal rotators of the hip and maintains a balance of hip musculature. Ideally you should use a 12-inch diameter ball or a medicine ball of 8-12 pounds. Do the exercise with your knees slightly closer together than hip-width, and your feet parallel rather than turned outward.

Perform six to eight repetitions per set. Start with one set and gradually build up to three, with at least 60 seconds in between sets.

Lower Abdominals

To balance and strengthen the muscles that rotate the pelvis backwards, you need to strengthen your lower abdominals. The origins of these exercises go back to the work of Goldthwait (1952), but have recently been refined through the research of Hodges and Richardson at the University of Queensland (1997). The version used here has been further modified and simplified by the CHEK Institute of San Diego.

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand under the lower back and the fingers of the other hand just inside and slightly lower than the bony prominence on the front of your hip (see below). From here, gently pull your belly button inwards at about 30 per cent effort. You should feel a muscle push upwards below your fingers – this is your transversus abdominus, the primary stabiliser for your hips, pelvis and spine. You should be able to do this without moving your pelvis or flattening your back – use the hand under the lower back to monitor this. Your aim is to be able to do this while breathing through your nose only, so that your belly rises as you inhale. This is known as diaphragmatic breathing.

The next stage is to contract your pelvic floor at the same time. To do this you need to contract the muscles that you would use to stop yourself from urinating. Once you can complete three repetitions of 60 seconds with a 30-second rest period, you can add alternate leg movements, to replicate the movement of the legs in gait.

To perform this variation you should roll your pelvis backwards slightly and keep a constant pressure on your fingers, under your lower back. The knees stay at 90 degrees and you then slowly lift one leg at a time until the thigh reaches vertical and then slowly lower to the floor. You should then perform the exercise on the other side, maintaining gentle pressure on the fingers. Your aim is to be able to continue the exercise continuously for two minutes.

Swiss Ball Hamstring Curls

In Maund’s experience, most runners have hamstrings that are both tight and weak. This means that they need to be both stretched and strengthened to stay injury free. The best way of strengthening your hamstrings is by using a Swiss ball. This stops the lower back muscles from working excessively and pulling you into an excessive pelvic tilt.

To start the exercise, lie on your back with your feet on the ball (which should be inflated firmly and sized so that when you sit on it your legs are at 90-100 degrees). The arms should be palms up. From here, push upwards from the hips, keeping the glutes tight and the tummy button pulled slightly inwards. The next stage is to pull the ball towards you, keeping your hips high throughout the movement. You should aim to pull the ball up to your backside before extending back out to a bridge position and repeating. The inward and outward movements should take two seconds each. You should aim for 8–12 repetitions, beginning at one set and gradually increasing to three sets with 45 seconds rest between sets.

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