Fit for purpose Exercising to exercise might sound like an anomaly, but get your stability right and you’ll be able run further, faster and more efficiently.
Running is a highly dynamic and stressful form of exercise, where you put more than three times your bodyweight through your legs on each stride, and in 60 minutes lose 1-2kg in fluid, burn 500 calories and subject your legs to 4,000 strides. If you look at the demands placed on your body, it becomes apparent that you shouldn’t just run to get fit, but you should also get fit to run. One of the elements of physical conditioning you need to concentrate on is stability and good proprioception (your body’s awareness of itself in space). In running, this is predominantly looked at as the core, pelvis and lower limbs.
Your body has two kinds of muscles – the ones that produce a joint movement (movers), which are on the surface, and the deeper stabiliser muscles, which help to support the joints during a movement. If your body’s stabilisers are working well, then the movers can work more efficiently and the joint is subject to less force and stress, thus there is a reduced chance of injury. This also leads to good balance, because when you land on uneven surfaces, you are able to maintain good stability.
Room for improvement
If you look at what happens when you run and some of the problems you may have due to poor stability, it can give you an idea of where you can improve. For example, when you land on your foot and the knee bends, it may fall inward to the midline, which is common with poor gluteal muscles (butt) and week quadriceps (front thighs). The pelvis may drop out to the side or drop down, which is again a common sign of gluteal weakness. Also, your lower back may flex to the side or slightly extend, which can be due to poor core muscles. These poor movements generally occur from poor stability and can lead to knee injuries, hip pain, spinal discomfort or even Achilles problems.
To improve these common areas, you need to strengthen your core muscles, pelvic stabilisers and also improve the eccentric strength of the quadriceps, not neglecting your balance.
Through some simple exercises, you can improve these areas and help to reduce your chance of injury. There are many combinations of stability exercises, but here are four basic ones to start with, plus some simple progressions if they get too easy.
1 Single-leg balance
Stand on one leg with your eyes open for 30 seconds and then your eyes closed for 30 seconds. Try to progress to unstable surfaces, such as a BOSU or wobble board.
2 Lunges with knee lift
From a lunge position, stand up bringing your back knee forwards and up to your chest. Return leg to floor and repeat the lunge. Progress to walking lunges.
In a box position straighten out one leg and the opposite arm. Then bend your knee again, pulling it under your body, and touch your knee with your hand. Repeat on the other side. Repeat ten times on each side. To progress, try doing a set of ten on each side before changing sides.
4 Side leg lifts
Lie on your side with your legs straight and together. Raise your top leg and slowly bring back to start. Repeat ten to 20 times or until fatigued. Progress by using an exercise band around your legs.