Well hello there and welcome to another Fitness Friday! This week I’m talking about weight training for injury prevention. I suspect this may turn into yet another series of posts, as there are so many common injuries and even more ways to prevent them!
Today’s specific focus will be on running related injuries and what exercises you need to be doing on your cross-training days to make sure your running isn’t sidelined.
I would say the take-home point of my personal training course was that everything in the body is connected. Muscles, joints and tendons rely on one another to move in perfect unison. If there are any imbalances, then repetitive motion (or lack of motion) will heighten it and lead to injury.
Common running injuries such as Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, shin splints, “runner’s knee,” IT band syndrome and hip flexor issues can sometimes be prevented by making sure those areas are all properly supported by strong muscles.
Now, if you are already suffering from any of these ailments, I have to stress that you get the okay from a doc before lifting weights in the gym. Self-diagnosing is bad enough, but self-treating is even worse!
The following is just a snippet of the moves that should be added to your strength training roster on your off-running days (because you are strength training – right?? *glare*). I’ll let you know how to do them, what area it works, what it can prevent, and at the end I’ll let you know how to put it all together. Sooo… let’s get to it!
How To Do it: Sit in a chair with your toes tucked under a desk, shelf or couch. Lift your toes as if you’re lifting the piece of furniture with them, hold for 10 seconds, then relax. Repeat.
Works: Your anterior tibialis, aka the small muscle in your shin. Dorsiflexion of the foot, what we usually think of as flexing our foot and toes upward, is the only motion that will work that muscle. What common exercise can you think of that incorporates this foot motion with resistance on your toes? Nothing? Exactly. This is something you can do while trying not to fall asleep at your desk and it could help those nagging running pains immensely.
Prevents: Shin splints, Achilles tendonitis, pulled calf
How To Do It: Stand on a step (with the option of holding dumbbells) with just your toes on the surface and heels hanging off. Push up onto your toes, then let your weight sink into your heels past the step. Repeat! This is really difficult if you have bad balance, so the standing or seated calf machines at the gym will do just fine.
Works: The gastrocnemius (upper calf) muscle and soleus (lower calf).
Prevents: Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, pulled calf
Inner Thigh Lift
How To Do It: Lay on your side, bend your top leg and bring that foot in front of you. Hold on to that foot with your top hand to keep it stable, then flex your outstretched leg, lifting and lowering it to the ground.
Works: Adductor muscles (aka your inner thigh)
Prevents: Runner’s knee
Side note: You can also work your outer thigh from this position. Keep your top leg outstretched, hold a dumbbell in place on your outer thigh to add extra weight, then lift and lower it. This will also hit your IT band and help with IT band sydrome.
How To Do It: Take on a wiiiide stance with your toes pointed slightly outward. Grab a weight, keeping your shoulders back and chest forward, stick your butt back and squat down, then push back up.
Works: Inner thighs, glutes, quadriceps.
Prevents: Hip injury, runner’s knee, IT band syndrome
Side note: I highly recommend waiting until the weight area is empty before doing this one. It’s a little friendly! :P
Bulgarian Split Squat
How To Do It: Place the top of your foot on a bench or high step, take a biiiig step out (like, an extra few inches out from where you’re comfortable). Bend your forward leg, squatting down until your back knee almost hits the floor, then push through your heel back up.
Works: Quadriceps, glutes.
Prevents: Hip injury, runner’s knee, IT band syndrome.
Prone Leg Raise on Ball
How To Do It: Lie face down (“prone”) on an exercise ball and roll forward until your pelvis (a classier way of saying “crotch”) is on the top of the ball. Place your palms on the floor, and with your feet slightly separated, raise your legs into the air, then lower.
Works: Lower back, hips, glutes, hamstrings.
Prevents: Hip injury, IT band syndrome.
Stiff Leg Deadlift
How To Do It: Grab a barbell or dumbbells (start light), with a very slight bend to the knees, tip forward at the hips, keeping your back straight and shoulders back. Bring the weight down until you feel a stretch in the back of your legs, then engage your hamstrings to pull the weight back up.
Works: Hamstrings, glutes, hips, lower back.
Prevents: Hip injury, IT band syndrome, pulled calf.
Single Leg Deadlift
How To Do It: Same deal as the stiff leg deadlift, except when you come down, bring one of your legs straight back. When you come back up, only tap the floor with that moving foot, before you immediately bring it back again. That prevents any rest from happening during the set and ensures your muscles will stay engaged.
Works: Hips, lower back, hamstrings, glutes.
Prevents: Hip injury, IT band syndrome.
Hamstring Curl on Ball
How To Do It: Lay on your back with your heels resting on the top of an exercise ball. With your arms at your sides, pop your hips up so your body is in a straight line. Roll the ball towards you so your knees come in and the bottom of your feet roll onto the ball. Roll back, keep your hips up and repeat.
Works: Hamstrings, calves, hips.
Prevents: Hip injury, Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, pulled calf.
Again, this is just a snippet of the moves that are out there. I specifically chose several weight bearing exercises as I’m a true believe that you need a heavy load to build muscle strength. But because of this, that’s why they’re best for preventing injuries and not treating existing injuries unless you get an okay from your sports doc!
Now, I’m not going to give you a program to follow or anything. Instead I’m going to give you a checklist. Here are the muscles I want you working in every resistance workout:
- lower back
Go back and check which muscles are being worked in all these exercises. Once you have a list where each of the above muscles are worked at least once, you’re good to go! I always recommend to do strength training 2-3 times a week, but I cut a little slack for people who are training for something longer than a 10k. Once a week at the very least!
Question of the Day: Have you ever suffered from an exercise related injury? I injured my hip last spring training for my first 5k. Classic overuse injury compounded by the fact that I was running in old sneakers. Couldn’t run for the two months leading up to my triathlon and had to take two straight weeks off all activity. A year later and I’ve finally got my hips strong enough that they don’t give me any trouble anymore when I run :)
Happy Fitness Friday!! Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend lined up :) I’ve got some fun things in store, but that’s not what we’re here to talk about today. Ohno. For today is the day of all things fitness here on The Great Balancing Act. Or it is for the next 55 minutes until the clock strikes midnight… better get to it!
The Perfect Squat.
When old-school weight lifting moves are being discussed, an Arnold photo is a must ;)
Much like the push up and plank, a squat is a very difficult move to execute perfectly. In order to hit all the proper muscles without injuring yourself, it’s imperative that you get the motion of the squat down.
I like to start people on a wall squat with a ball. Rolling down with the ball on your back allows you to get your butt back and keeps your chest up without having to try as hard. Plus, it’s much better on your knees than a regular squat. A squat essentially works your butt and thighs, with the emphasis on your glutes and quadriceps.
Another way to learn proper squat form is to sit back on to a step or chair to learn just how far back your butt needs to be and feel what muscles should be engaged in your legs.
Things to remember when performing a squat:
- Get that butt back!!! I don’t care how silly you feel, pop out your behind and pretend like you’re sitting back on an invisible chair.
- Lock your feet and heels to the ground. Your heels should never raise off the ground. I repeat, your heels should never raise. Rocking up to your toes as you bring your bodyweight up feels easier, which means you’re cheating yourself out of the exercise.
- Keep your shoulders back & down and chest up proud. People have a tendency to round their shoulders and back, but this is a squat, not a forward fold.
- Whoever told you to point your toes outward was lying. Pointing your toes to opposite walls is not natural to our body mechanics. When beginning, keep your toes hip-width apart and facing forward.
- Lower until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Deep squats are an advanced move, don’t compromise your knees and form to get your ass to the grass.
Once you’ve mastered the bodyweight squat without a ball, you can add some weight for added resistance. Some people prefer to hold dumbbells at their side.
Or you can grab a body bar and place it on the “shelf” of your back (what I like to call the “sweet spot”).
Eventually, even that will get too easy. Then it will be time to graduate to the squat rack.
I’m surprised by how many people don’t know what I’m talking about when I say “squat rack.” This is one of the most basic pieces equipment for any gym. Do not confuse it with a smith machine. A squat rack has a removable olympic bar that rests on adjustable pegs. The olympic bar is just a really long silver bar that weighs 45 lbs. Be sure you can squat with 45 lbs before using it!
All you have to do is set the bar slightly lower that shoulder-height. Add your plates and don’t forget the metal pins that slide on either side in case you lose it and the plates fall off. Find that “sweet spot” between your shoulders, lift the bar using your legs, and step out from the rack.
From there, you are good to go until you have just enough energy to get the bar back on the pegs (a clank and a grunt are welcome here ;) )
And that my friends is your basic squat! As with any weightlifting move, there are a ton of variations.
Here are some notable notables…
The plie squat/sumo squat. This can be done with a heavy dumbbell between your legs, or with a barbell on your back. Same rules apply here, except it targets your quads and inner thighs a little more. You’ll notice the feet are very wide and the toes are pointing outward. I said not to do this. There is debate as to whether or not this is good for your body mechanics. I say, do them sparingly and with lighter weights.
Split squat. Gosh, these are brutal. Looks almost like a stationary lunge, except the top of one foot is behind you on a bench, and you squat down on your front leg. You can also do this with dumbbells at your side or a plate/ball at your chest. This one really hits your quads.
Single-leg squat. Aka “the butt crusher.” One day after doing this exercise, it is guaranteed I will wince in pain every time I sit! :P Raise one leg off the ground either in front or behind you, and squat down on your standing leg in the usual form. Clearly, this one is for the glutes ;)
Remember that while throwing a pate-loaded bar on your back may look cool, it’s important you get the form and movement down to reap the benefits of a squat! Practice in front of the mirror every now and then to check in with yourself. And all you girls who are afraid that these will give you “thunder thighs,” I encourage you to give them a shot! You can burn some serious calories by adding squats to your strength training routine, and you’ll rock those daisy dukes like none other ;)