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The Runner’s Health Check – How to Remain Injury-Free in the Long Run

Long runs can be tough on the body. To prevent injury, it’s important to assess your mobility and stability before heading out. Here’s a quick and simple health check for runners to do before increasing mileage.


If you're looking to increase your distance or crush a personal best at the next marathon, it’s important to build a strong foundation. 


So, we teamed up with Sports Physiotherapist Markus Breuer to find out more about the fundamental moves you’ll need to take you further, faster: 


“For around 80% of the runners I see, a lack of stability in the hips is the root of a lot of problems. Then moving down, this instability often leads the knees to over compensate and muscles stretch from overuse, causing runner’s knee and other injuries.” 


As the great philosopher Shakira once said: “The hips don’t lie.” The pelvis is the bone structure that helps you to walk, run and maintain good posture, so keeping those hips in alignment is crucial.


To keep in sound running shape, you’ll need to activate key muscles. Put your stability to the test and complete the exercises below before setting out on your next run.


The Runner’s Test



This test is designed to check the stability of your pelvis without using compensation mechanisms. By following the above video, you can test your hip stability.


Keeping your knees bent, arms wrapped across the chest, slowly raise one leg and find your balance. Once stabilized, push your leg back and out, bringing your upper body parallel to the ground. Keeping your head straight and eyes focused on the ground in front of you, slightly twist your shoulders from right to left, without rotating the pelvis.


The pelvis is the connector between your lower and upper body, but the hips are the base that will keep you stable while running. As Markus points out:


Everyone can hold their core and hips stable for a few minutes, but the goal is to keep that stability throughout your run. If you lose stability, you start to cave in, often leading to injury.


How did you do? Not as easy as it looks, right? If you felt a bit off balance during the test, then do the following exercises on a regular basis to soon see improvements in your stability.


The Exercises You Can Do to Improve Mobility


1. Step-Ups (With Optional Extension)          


This exercise prepares you for a strong running start. The focus is on the stabilization of the pelvis and functional training for the front leg muscles (your quadriceps).


Begin by facing a step or block, standing with even weight in both legs. Step onto the block with your right leg, bringing the left leg up in one swift movement at a 90-degree angle. At the same time, rise up onto your right forefoot if you can. Hold this position for just a moment, and then bring your left leg back down, immediately followed by the right. Swinging your arms like you would while running make’s this exercise more functional.


Complete 10-12 reps, alternating legs as you go.


Tip: If it’s too challenging with the extension onto the forefoot, simply skip this final part of the movement – the standard step-up already gives you the key benefits of the move.  


2. Single-Leg Bridge Raises            


The important thing to remember with this exercise is to keep your heels in contact with the ground. The knee should be at more than a 90-degree angle, while the pelvis remains stable and level throughout. 


This workout will target your hamstrings and activate your glutes, an essential muscle group to warm up before any long runs. 


Complete two sets of 10-15 reps and repeat on both sides. 


3. External Hip Rotation      



Keep your hips parallel and your heels together. Slowly, lift one knee until you feel a comfortable activation of the posterior pelvic muscles and then bring the knee back down until it’s stacked evenly on the other. Both hip joints have to be vertical to the ground (do not rotate your pelvis backwards).


This movement targets the M. Gluteus Medius and should therefore be done slowly and with intention. You should feel tension in your muscles when lifting and lowering the knee (avoid simply dropping your knee back down).


Complete two sets of 10-15 reps and repeat on both sides. 


4. Side Plank       


To strengthen those oblique muscles, hold a side plank for around 30 seconds on each side.


Remember that getting in and out of this position is just as important as keeping your feet stacked, body in one straight line and hips parallel. Push up off the ground by stabilizing the hips and tensing your core muscles. This prevents placing additional pressure on your neck and arm.


Tip: If you find stacking your feet too hard or uncomfortable, simply separate them and keep them both on the ground, one behind the other.


5. Plank      


The classic plank – a staple in almost all core-strengthening workouts. As with all of the previous exercises, keep those hips even, your core tucked in and your entire body in a straight line from head to toe.


Once you’re in position, hold your plank for around 30 seconds. If this is too hard, try shorter bursts to keep good form. If this is too easy, then you’re already on your way to great running health.  


By ‘planking’ on a regular basis you’ll train your core muscles to stay engaged and activated while running.


Now it’s time to test your new-found mobility out on the run. And once you’ve returned, you can warm down with a good stretch.


Roll It Out



Time to dig out that dusty foam roller you bought and used once (we’ve all been there). Although it can be a bit painful to roll out tired muscles, it’s the key to a speedy recovery.


Take care not to roll over the knee joint, but focus on rolling out all the muscles above and below it. By keeping your hips even and your core strong during the rollout, you’ll feel less pressure on your leg.


Tip: For the best results, roll very slowly and let the foam roller work some deep tissue magic. 


If this health assessment doesn’t put the fun back into your run, it may be time to take a trip to your local sports physio (if you’re a Zurich local, reach out to EQIP). And remember – always check with your doctor before picking up a new exercise routine or increasing your mileage.  


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