By: Miranda Tomenson, MSc
I asked my chiropractor about the most common cause of running related injuries. His response was that weak gluteal muscles (AKA bum muscles) are the most common cause. This muscles are primary involved in keeping you upright and extending your leg behind you. Apparently, when they are weak, a person will compensate by using other muscles that are not meant to do these actions. This leads to injuries like calf strains, ITB issues and many others. So, I then asked for his suggestions for strengthening these muscles. He recommended the best exercises should be done with one leg at a time, as we are only using one leg at a time when running. He also named several key exercises to perform 2-3x per week, including the following:
1. One legged squats or split squats: With one leg up on a chair, squat down using the opposite leg to lower and lift yourself. Ensure that your knee doesn’t go further than the front of your toes. Also ensure that your knee is tracking in a straight line and not wobbling back and forth. I recommend repeating the exercise for 3 sets of 6-8 reps per side, progressing to 10-12 reps, with 1-2 min rest. You can eventually add weight, by holding dumbbells in your hands.
Figure 1. One legged/Split Squats
2. Clam Shells: Lie on your side with your knees bent at a ninety degree angle and your ankles lined up with your tailbone. Keep your ankles together, lift your top leg, opening your legs like a clam, lower and repeat. I recommend repeating the exercise for 3 sets of 10-12 reps per side, progressing to 15-25 reps, with 30s to 1 min rest. You can eventually add resistance, by wrapping a theraband just above your knees.
Figure 2. Clam Shells
3. Side steps: Use a theraband (available at most running stores) around both legs just above the ankles (or the knees). Bend your knee partially and walk sideways. I recommend repeating the exercise for 3 sets of 10-12 reps per side, progressing to 15-25 reps, with 30s to 1 min rest.
Figure 3. Side steps
4. Glute bridge: Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor. Engage your glutes (clench your bum) to lift your hips till your thighs are in line with your pelvis, hold for 5 seconds, lower down, repeat. I recommend repeating the exercise for 3 sets of 10-12 reps, progressing to 15-25 reps, with 30s to 1 min rest. You can also add difficulty to this exercise by keeping one leg straight and lifted off the ground. Note: to engage your glutes and not your hamstrings, make sure you bring your heels close to your bum.
Figure 4a. Glute bridge
Figure 4b. Glute bridge with one leg extended
5. Bird-dogs: Start on all fours (knees and hands). Keeping your back still, slowly raise one arm and slowly kick the opposite leg back behind you. Hold for 5 seconds, then bring the arm and knee back to starting position and repeat with the opposite leg. I recommend repeating the exercise for 3 sets of 10-12 reps per side, progressing to 15-25 reps, with 30s -1 min rest.
Figure 5. Bird-Dogs
Below is a summary of my recommended parameters for these exercises.
|Exercise||Starting # of Sets||Starting # of Reps||Rest||Progression|
|Split Squats||2-3||6-8||1-2 mins||10-12 reps/set
Add weight with dumb bells
|Clam Shells||3||10-12||30s-1min||15-25 reps/set, up to 5 sets
Add theraband above knees
|Side-steps||3||10-12||30s-1min||15-25 reps/set, up to 5 sets
Add a higher resistance theraband
|Glute bridge||3||10-12||30s-1min||15-25reps/set, up to 5 sets
One legged, up to 5 sets
|Bird-dogs||3||10-12||30s-1min||15-25reps/set, up to 5 sets|
Remember to only do these exercises if they are pain free and ensure that you are doing the movements correctly before progressing. For beginners, I recommend adding 1 rep per set per week and only after about 6 weeks, progressing to the next level of difficulty.
Note: Miranda Tomenson is a professional triathlete, NCCP certified coach and has 13 years of experience training and coaching endurance athletes.