One of running’s biggest appeals is how straightforward it appears. (Step one: run. Step two: prosper.) But by neglecting strength training, many mileage-focused athletes put themselves at risk of developing knee pain, shin splints, plantar fasciitis, tendonosis, and other common running injuries. In fact, studies have found that up to 80 percent of runners are injured each year.
While there’s no way to guarantee perfect health for life (we wish!), building strength in oft-overlooked muscles like the gluteus medius can go a long way to improve form and reduce the risk of serious injury. We met up with orthopedist and running specialist Dr. Jen Davis PT, DPT to identify a handful of simple exercises that can help you stay strong and healthy as you chase your running goals.
Clamshells: The clamshell is one of the absolute best hip strengthening exercises. Lie on your side with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and your hips flexed at 60 degrees. While keeping your heels together and your hips stacked, slowly lift your top knee towards the ceiling. Hold at the top for 3-5 seconds, then lower it back down.
For an extra challenge: Add a resistance band around your knees.
Bridges: Yogis are likely already familiar with the bridge. Lie on the floor with your knees bent. Knees are pointed towards the ceiling and legs are hip-width apart. Putting pressure in your heels to activate the glutes, slowly lift your hips towards the ceiling, rolling up one vertebrae at a time until your trunk is in a straight line. Then slowly lower your hips back to the floor.
For an extra challenge: Extend one leg into the air.
Single Leg Squats: Challenge your balance with the single leg squat. While standing on one leg, bend your knee as much as possible, then slowly stand back up. Sit back as much as possible, as if you’re sitting down into a chair, and keep your spine straight.
For an extra challenge: Grab a kettlebell.
Quadruped Contralateral Touches: This common exercise is also called elbow-to-knee bird dogs. Starting on all fours, extend your left arm straight out in front of you, and your right leg straight behind you. (Don’t arch your back!) From there, slowly bring your lifted elbow and knee towards each other until they touch. Switch sides after several reps.
For an extra challenge: Stretch a resistance band between your extended foot and hand.
Side Planks: To begin the side plank, lie on your side with your legs fully extended and your feet stacked on top of each other. Place your elbow underneath your shoulder and raise your hips off the ground until your body is in a straight line. (If this is too intense to start, modify by staggering the feet or bending both knees into a half plank.)
For an extra challenge: Raise your top leg towards the ceiling.
Complete 2–3 sets of 10–15 reps (or until fatigued) for exercises 1–4. Alternately, repeat each exercise for a minute on each side, focusing on slow, controlled movements rather than a specific number of reps. Repeat each side twice.
These exercises feel great after a run, but if that doesn’t work for you, feel free to squeeze them into your schedule wherever you can—you might even try doing squats at your desk! Clamshells and bridges can be performed daily; for the rest, aim for 2–3 sessions per week. And of course, if you have any existing injuries, consult an expert before starting a new routine. Good luck, and happy running!