Summertime during a pandemic–what will you do for fun outside of your home? Runners and hikers will likely take advantage of the longer daylight and drier trails. This sounds wonderful, but lower body injuries lurk within these highly repetitive, weight bearing activities if our musculoskeletal and neuromuscular systems are out of tune.
Tuning these systems requires training the muscles and the nervous system to work together.
For example, standing on one leg, requires your ankle, leg, and core muscles to integrate and communicate with the proprioception and inner ear systems to keep you upright. Now, consider running a single-leg activity; how well a runner can balance for single leg activity is an indicator of pelvis control and core strength.
Runners require strength and stability from one leg at a time to allow them to gracefully move through the gait cycle–absorbing shock on landing, transferring body weight in the stance phase and then pushing off the ground appropriately. If proper landing and push off is achieved, the alternating leg is set up for success when it hits the ground….and the cycle repeats, over and over, step after step. With practice and repetition, better form and function will reduce injury and improve performance.
Some suggested exercises are listed below. In general, focus on control, slow down your motion and hold a balanced posture before you change position. Keep your back relaxed and try to “feel” your gluteal muscles during your stance. You will notice improvement with practice!
- Toe/Heel taps:
Stand on one leg and toe tap your other foot in-front, out to the side, and behind you. Bend your knee slightly as you reach your other foot to the ground. Try to keep your stance-leg hip, knee, and ankle in good alignment. Do not let your knee on the stance leg fall inward. Keep your trunk upright. Keep your pelvis and waist level. Feel glutes engage on stance leg. Actively contract them if you need.
- Standing RDLs:
Stand on one leg and bend forward, touching your opposite hand to the toe. Try to hinge at your hip and you will feel a gentle, slight stretch in your hamstring. Can you do this without holding onto something? If not, just touch a countertop or wall until you get more balanced.
- Lateral skater jumps + stick the landing:
Shift side to side, sit down into your hip and try to get hip over your heels.
- UNEVEN Surface:
Stand on a pillow, couch cushion or BOSU and balance with eyes open and closed (with one leg or both), or try to perform squats.
These can be made more difficult by manipulating your surface (narrow or cushioned surfaces are more challenging) or your visual input (eyes open, eyes closed, or looking off center). If you experience pain or have other concerns, please contact your physical therapist.
Rebound Sports and Physical Therapy has many therapists available to help achieve your running goals. Questions? Please contact our Loveland or Fort Collins office at (970)663-6142.
Emily Clark, M.S., P.T.