21 essential running prehab moves

Calf stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 90 SECS

Dynamic stretching is now favoured as part of a warm-up, but static stretching is still relevant. Static stretching places the muscle under tension and holds the position; dynamic stretching increases the range of movement through repetition.

Place one foot against the wall so your toes are just above the height of a skirting board, your heel a few centimetres away from the wall and your foot bent at approximately a 45-degree angle to the floor.

Use your back foot to push gently forwards, bringing your front knee towards the wall. Hold for 45 seconds, switch legs and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Glute activation

STRENGTH: 4 MINS

This strengthens the core muscles by incorporating three exercises: the plank, glute activation and shoulder stabilisation.

Lie on your front and bend one knee to 90 degrees. Imagine there is a tray of glasses on the sole of your raised foot – hold it steady, being careful not to change the bend in the knee. Now lift the leg upward using only your glute to power it. Slowly lower back to the starting position, and repeat five times with a bent knee and once with a straight leg. That’s a set; complete five on each leg. As you progress, make this harder by starting in the plank position.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Single leg squat

STRENGTH: 2 MINS

Standing on one leg and with your standing knee over the middle toe of the same foot, lower down as far as you can without your knee moving into the midline. As soon as you see the knee wandering over towards the big-toe side, stop and come back up – don’t try a deeper squat until you can control this medial movement.

Start with 10 reps on each leg, then alternate first adding reps, then increasing the depth of the squat in the weeks that follow. This way you increase the difficulty of only one aspect at a time. You’ll soon be able to hold your knee plumb straight and get your knee bend beyond 90 degrees.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

ITB and tensor fascia latae stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 90 SECS

Place your right foot behind your left leg and out to the left side. Bring your right arm up over your head and side-bend towards your protruding right foot. Push your hip into the stretch, hold for 30-40 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Hip adductors stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 90 SECS

Lunge to the side, bending your leading leg and keeping the trailing leg straight and your pelvis level. Slowly increase the bend in the lead leg until you reach a comfortable stretch on the inner side of the trailing leg. Hold for 45 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Calf raises

STRENGTH: 3 MINS

Stand on your tiptoes on the edge of a step, then slowly lower your heel as far as possible.

Raise back up to the start position in one smooth movement. Repeat for 3 x 15 reps.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Towel grab

STRENGTH: 2 MINS

This strengthens the arch of the foot and offers a neuromuscular benefit by stimulating the nerves for improved all-round function.

Lay a towel out on the floor in front of your chair and place your toes onto it, with your heel flat on the floor.

By raising and lowering your forefoot, grab the towel with your toes on every downward movement and scrunch it towards you. Alternate feet and repeat for two minutes.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Side step with squat

STRENGTH: 4 MINS

This exercise activates an impressive cast of muscles: quads, glutes, abductors, adductors, calf, peroneal and core muscles.

Place an exercise band around your thighs, just tight enough so that it stretches when you bend your knees into a squat.

Each rep contains three parts: squat, side step and return to standing.

Repeat this for the length of your available space in a room, or for 10 reps each direction x 3.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Hamstring builder

STRENGTH: 4 MINS

This eccentric-muscle contraction exercise requires slow, controlled movements, lowering over approximately six seconds and lifting back up at a controlled pace (one or two seconds).

Stand on one leg with your standing leg slightly bent, then slowly bend forward, keeping your non-standing leg straight out behind you. Lower your hands towards the floor to feel a stretch in your hamstring, then slowly to return to standing. Alternate legs for a total of 15 reps each side. Progress to using a dumbbell.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Toe raises

STRENGTH: 3 MINS

This simple exercise helps build strength in the muscles at the front of the lower leg.

Stand with your back to a wall and take a short step away with each foot.

Keeping your heels in contact with the floor, raise your toes up as far as you can then slowly lower back towards the floor, stopping before your toes touch down. Do 4 x 25 reps.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

The clam

STRENGTH: 4 MINS

This exercise delivers hip abduction/rotation.

Lying on your side, bend your knees so the soles of your feet are in line with your spine.

Slowly lift your top knee up in an arc away from the other knee. Hold for three seconds, then return slowly to resting. Repeat for 3 x 15 reps on each side.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Glutes stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 90 SECS

Lie on your back and take hold of your right knee with your right hand. With your left hand, grab your right ankle with an underhand grip. Pull both towards you to feel a stretch in the glutes. Hold for 45-60 seconds, swap legs and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Shin stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 1 MIN

Place your knee on top of a foam roller with your toes pointing back.

Gradually increase the stretch by lowering your hips to the floor. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Peroneal ankle eversion

STRENGTH: 4 MINS

Tie a loop in an exercise band and place it over your foot. Hook the remaining length of the band around the other foot and pull the free end towards you.

Twist the outside edge of your foot out to the side against the resistance of the exercise band. Don’t rotate around the ankle. The big toe of your twisting foot should remain roughly in line with the shinbone, with little or no lateral rotation of the foot. Push out against the band for 3 x 15 reps, returning to the resting position at the end of each rep.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Hip flexor stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 90 SECS

Stand in a forward-lunge position, knee on a cushion if you find that more comfortable. Keeping your torso upright, tuck your glutes under your pelvis.

Slowly bend your front knee so the stretch on the front of your hip increases.

Hold at a comfortable stretch for 45 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Tibialis posterior strengthening

STRENGTH: 3 MINS

This strength exercise can reduce overpronation and the risk of shin splints.

Start with your toes pointing out, then raise your heels.

When close to the top of your calf raise, rotate your heels in towards each other before slowly lowering them back down to the flat again. Repeat for 3 x 25 reps.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Core muscles activation

STRENGTH: 3 MINS

Lie on your back, legs at 90 degrees. Place your fingertips on the bony points at the front of your pelvis, then move your fingers in and down 2cm so you are pushing down on your transverse abdominis (TA) muscle. Check you are in the right place by coughing: you should feel the muscle ‘bounce’ under your fingers.

Now imagine you are urinating and want to stop the flow – you should feel a tightening of the TA. Hold that tension, draw in your belly button and slightly flatten your lower back towards the floor. Hold all three of these positions together and you are tensing your core muscles.

Alternate lifting each foot off the floor slightly, maintaining tension in both sides of your TA. Build to 25 on each leg.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Bent-leg hamstring stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 90 SECS

Using a straight leg, which was the old method for the hamstring stretch, often stressed the sciatic nerve (which runs from the lower back into the thigh) rather than the muscle, causing pain at the back of the knee.

Lie on your back, hook a band over one heel and pull that leg towards you so your hip flexes to 90 degrees. Now pull on the band so that your knee starts to straighten (but not fully). Pull enough so that you feel a good – but not painful – stretch in the back of your upper leg. Hold for 45 seconds, switch legs and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Hamstring/core combination

STRENGTH: 90 SECS

This compound exercise involves the hamstring curl, bridge and core activation in one move.

Lie on the floor with your heels resting on a fitness ball and engage your core as per the Core Exercise (17). Pull your heels towards you while raising your hips at the same time. Slowly return to the start position on the floor. Repeat for 3 x 8-10 reps.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Soleus stretch

FLEXIBILITY: 90 SECS

Your soleus is the deeper flat muscle in your calf.

Stand facing a wall with your feet 10-20cm away from it, one foot in front of the other. Bend both knees until you feel a dull stretch deep in the calf muscle. Hold for 45 seconds, then switch legs and repeat.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Single leg balance

STRENGTH: 2-4 MIN

Balance on one leg on Bosu ball (or a cushion or pillow if you don’t have a Bosu). Now hold the raised leg in a variety of positions to mimic the running action. Use your arms to alter your centre of gravity by moving them slowly into alternating positions, as if you were running. Keep your hips level throughout and work hard to maintain balance through your foot, ankle, knee and hip. Balance for 20-60 seconds and repeat the move standing on the other leg.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

Single-leg balance Bosu ball variations

Next level: Once you’ve mastered the standard single-leg balance on the previous page, try these variations to keep progressing

BOSU LUNGE

STRENGTH: 2-4 MIN

This is an extension of the single-leg-balance move that you can progress to once you’ve mastered your basic balance.

Place a Bosu ball plastic-side down and stand a generous stride away from its centre. Step forward to place one foot onto the centre of the pod. Bend both knees and push back to standing. Alternate legs for 15 reps on each side.

LUNGE INTO SINGLE-LEG BALANCE

STRENGTH: 2-4 MIN

Combining the single-leg balance with a Bosu lunge provides a functional exercise that works the full running action and also tests strength in the core, upper back, shoulders and neck.

Lunge onto the Bosu and lower your hands (holding a weight if you want to increase the difficulty) while lifting your trailing leg off the floor. Balance for three seconds and return to the start position.

Repeat, alternating legs, for 15 reps each side.

Photo by Grant Pritchard

These are the key exercises runners need to perform as part of a robust ‘prehabilitation’ programme – or to put it in a more compelling way, the stuff you need to do if you want to stay as free from injury as you possibly can. Prehabilitation (‘prehab’) is also known as strength and conditioning, which may conjure images of long, gruelling gym sessions. Don’t panic, though – while this may be the case for the elites, the good news is that it starts off far easier for most runners, with some basic body-work exercises.

When putting this comprehensive prehab programme together, I initially listed about 50 exercises covering both strength and flexibility. The trick was to divide them into those you ‘must’ do, those you ‘should’ do and, in the event of having more time, those you ‘could’ do. I’ve done that, cutting the list down to these 21 essential exercises, which will provide the greatest positive impact on your ability as a runner and help make you more resistant to injury as you put in the long miles in the years to come.

You don’t need to do all 21 exercises every day: you can cover everything on a weekly basis, in under 12 minutes per day. Taking this time out of your training schedule will pay dividends in the long run.

Monday

Core muscles activation

Hamstring/core combination

Bent-leg hamstring stretch

Single-leg balance

Soleus stretch

Tuesday

Hip flexor stretch

Tibialis posterior strengthening

Glute activation

Shin stretch

Wednesday

Single-leg squat

Calf raises

Towel grab

Hip adductor stretch

Thursday

The clam

Toe raises

Hamstring builder

Friday

Side step with squat

Peroneal ankle eversion

Single-leg squat

Saturday

Calf stretch

Glutes stretch

ITB/tensor fascia latae stretch

Single-leg balance

Glute activation

Sunday

Rest


Paul Hobrough is a former Team GB athlete, physiotherapist, sports scientist and Clinical Director of Physio&Therapy. Over the years he has worked with a host of elite runners, including Steve Cram and Paula Radcliffe, and helped thousands of amateurs to beat injury, boost performance and reach their running goals. Adapted from Running Free of Injuries: From Pain to Personal Best by Paul Hobrough.