What exercises should be used for prehab or rehab? Use them all to keep your body in strong, working order this training cycle!
It’s been a while since I did any sort of post on injury, injury prevention, injury rehab, etc. And since I just re-experienced ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome) at Moebius 50K and since I’m still in training for another long distance race, I figured now is as good a time as ever to pick up where we left off.
Please note: exercise and strength training is not a one-size-fits-all type of activity so what works for one may not work for all. In addition, this post is for entertainment purposes only. While I am a coach and fitness trainer, I’m not a doctor or physical therapist. If you’re experiencing injury, please seek medical attention.
Before we proceed, be sure to check out my previous posts — you may find them useful:
Strength Stabilizer Muscles and Run Injury-free
Runners: You Need to Foam Roll!
The Importance of Foot Strength for Runners
Hip and Glute Strength for IT Band Rehab
Iliotibial Band Rehabilitation
Today I’m going to expand on the idea of strength training as prehab. No one wants to be sidelined with injury, right? And what’s the best way to prevent that from happening? Making sure you’re strong and nimble throughout training to mitigate any potential for injury along the way.
Instead of reinventing the wheel and rewriting all of what I’ve previously written (see above), I’m going to give you a quick rundown of some things I’ve learned or adhered to in the recent past that work well for me and most of my runners.
In general terms, here are some super easy, great exercises you can do on your own at home while you’re watching TV or catching up on emails — for either prehab or rehab, and sometimes both! They’re pretty simple and don’t take long.
Prehab or Rehab? Why Not Both?!
1. Toe yoga
Several years ago I was at a running store trying on shoes with my friend. I believe this was shortly after my first disastrous marathon, so naturally the topic of injury came up. While fitting me for shoes, the store owner asked if I could lift my big toes while keeping the rest of my toes planted on the ground, and vice versa. Sadly, I wasn’t able to do either. I was so confused why I wasn’t able to do a seemingly simple task.
This was my introduction to the concept of the kinetic chain.
Having strong toes and feet is paramount to having good running form. When your feet and toes are strong, your ankles and calves are strong. When your ankles and calves are strong, your knees and quads and hamstrings are strong. And so on and so forth. Now, the same is true going in the other direction. If your hips and glutes are strong, this affects the strength and mobility of your quads and hamstrings, all the way down the chain. And the same goes for weakness — when one link is weak, it can (and will likely) affect all the other links. The weaker each link, the weaker you are as a runner as a whole. Conversely, the stronger each link, the better off you are as a runner.
Toe yoga is fantastic for not only injury prevention but also injury rehab. I currently have two clients on toe yoga protocol to help with ankle injuries. This is an example of using it for rehab. So far, so good, too, because we’re seeing improvements weekly.
Strong toes and feet can set you up for a lifetime of success. My recommendation is to practice toe yoga at least a few times a week, but it can easily be done daily.
Try it! To do basic toe yoga, first raise your big toes, keeping your remaining toes flat on the ground. Relax your big toes. Repeat this 10 times. Next, keeping your big toes on the ground, raise the four remaining toes. Relax your toes. Repeat this 10 times. Repeat this exercise cycle 3-4 times in a row or as ability dictates. It may be helpful to focus on one foot at a time in the beginning stages.
2. Single leg everything
Since becoming a certified personal trainer, my eyes have been opened to the endless possibilities of balance work and challenging our postural stability with simple exercises — on one leg. This can range from something as simple as balancing on one foot to executing single leg deadlifts or even standing on an upside down BOSU ball. Creating an unstable environment is one of the simplest, most helpful things a runner can do to prevent injury and aid in overall strength.
I like to do simple movements like bicep curls or lateral arm raises while balancing on one leg. I also use the BOSU ball a lot in my own training.
Try it! Next time you’re at the gym, grab a pair of dumbbells. Instead of standing bicep curls, perform bicep curls on one leg. So if you do 20 total, complete 10 curls on the right leg, then 10 curls on the left leg.
3. All hail the Myrtl routine
I don’t always complete the entire Myrtl routine in one go. In fact, it’s rare that I ever do. But having the exercises from this routine in my back pocket is helpful throughout any training cycle. The Myrtl routine is designed to increase hip flexibility and strength. What I like it for is keeping my IT bands happy and healthy. There are a few key exercises I do myself and often prescribe to my runners. These exercises are perfect for prehab or rehab. They are:
- Lateral Leg Raise
- Fire Hydrants
- Donkey Kicks
- Leg Swings
If done properly, all of these exercises will, in one way or another, target your gluteus medius. This small muscle is responsible for abduction of the hip and provides stability to the pelvis. It’s an extremely important muscle for runners because it prevents the opposite side of the pelvis from dropping during walking, running, and single leg weight-bearing exercises.
In other words, the gluteus medius keeps one side of the pelvis stable when the opposite limb is swinging forward to take the next step. When glute meds are weak or underdeveloped, a plethora of issues can occur — most notably stress on the iliotibial band which can in turn flare into full-blown ITBS.
Try it! During your next exercise sesh, try those five exercises I do regularly from the Myrtl routine. For maximum effect, try to complete three rounds of 15 reps on each leg.
4. Lift heavy
I’m the first to admit that before I became a certified trainer I was NOT a gym girl. I hated everything about lifting weights and I loathed going to the gym. But I knew I needed to incorporate resistance training into my own life and I knew if it benefited me, it would benefit other people (ahem, runners) like me.
I’ve been through my fair share of injuries and rehab, and I’ve picked up a lot of information and tips along the way. One of the biggest improvements I’ve made to my running overall has been lifting heavy. I don’t mean blood-vessel-popping, drop-the-barbell-because-it’s-too-heavy-to-hold-more-than-a-millisecond heavy. No, I mean heavy enough to challenge yourself but not so heavy that you’re putting yourself in a potentially unsafe or uncompromising position or situation.
Instead of using 2-5 lb dumbbells in your basement, you should consider using 8-12 lb dumbbells or going to the gym and using machines. Or perhaps both. I was stuck in the “weight lifting” rut for years. I thought by doing my bodyweight squats, lunges, and 5-lb med ball tosses I was helping myself when in reality, the 350-lb leg press is what my body really needed.
Don’t be afraid to increase your weight. Just do it slowly and incrementally, and listen to your body. Strong muscles make strong runners so don’t be afraid of lifting some weights. Resistance training is fantastic for prehab or rehab and should be done year round regardless of where you are in your run training.
Try it! Head to your nearest gym and get a membership. Then, go play on the machines! Nervous? No one’s watching you, I promise. And we all start somewhere. Just go and have fun!
Bottom line — control what you can to have the most successful training cycle. For me, prehab is where it’s at. I enjoy exercising and feeling strong so it works for me. If you’re stuck in the “I only run” rut, I encourage you to get out and get active in a different way.
And if you do get injured along the way, get on the rehab train sooner rather than later (as your injury allows).
Most importantly, have fun!
What’s one thing you’ve found to work well for you to stay injury-free during training?
What’s your go-to workout on gym days?
Linking up with Debbie and Marc for the Running Coaches Corner!