If you live outside of the wonderful little bubble called The Bay Area, winter probably means a lot more time spent indoors. Less running, more eating. That’s usually the way the bad weather days roll. And you know what? That’s totally okay. We’ll call it an “off-season.” But here’s the thing: you can’t totally slack off for 6 weeks. Taking a short break from running is encouraged, but you can use that new free time to build preseason strength instead of watching Home Alone for the 500th time. I’m going to help you injury-proof your body before that spring marathon. So below you will find the top five strength exercises you, yes YOU, need to do this winter. These exercises target the most injury-prone areas. You’ll run stronger and faster with less chance of injury because all your muscles are in harmonious balance.
Start with 1-2 sets and build up to 4, with minimal rest in between exercises. Try to do this circuit 2-3 times per week to get maximum benefit. It shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes and you can do it before or after a run, though I’d suggest starting with the run first in case your legs get a little jello-y from the new strength work. The only equipment you’ll need are mini resistance bands, a swiss ball, and something moderately heavy: a dumbbell, kettlebell, 12 pack of beer, anything you can easily hold in one hand.
Equipment: mini resistance bands
Works: gluteus medius
Importance: This tiny muscle is probably the most important one to strengthen to prevent injuries. The glute med. is a major knee stabilizer, controlling the rotation of the leg. When this muscle is weak the knee will cave inwards with every step, leading to injuries such as IT band syndrome, runner’s knee, and plantar fasciitis.
How: Place a resistance band around your legs; higher is easier. Sit your hips back into a quarter squat and take controlled lateral steps, keeping constant tension on the band. Keep chest up and toes turned in just slightly. Take 10-15 steps and repeat in the other direction. Perform the same movement going forward and backwards.
Single Leg Deadlifts
Equipment: dumbbell, kettlebell, heavy purse, anything weighing 5-15 pounds
Works: gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, hamstrings, core, ankle stabilizers
Importance: The posterior chain is underused in most runners, and this exercise hits it all. Performing single leg strength work will help correct imbalances between the two sides, one of the major causes of overuse injuries. The body is less likely to compensate when muscles are working as they are supposed to.
How: Start with weight in right hand. Keeping shoulder locked into your back, hinge forward with a long spine, letting the right leg rise so you come to parallel (or as close as you can). Squeeze your left glute and hamstring, tighten the core, and rise back to standing. The key is to keep the shoulders and hips square to the ground as you hinge. Perform 8-12 on each leg, adding more weight or more reps as the exercise gets easier.
Equipment: swiss ball
Works: hamstrings, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, core
Importance: Another posterior chain exercise, this one really isolates the hamstrings. The hammies, along with the glutes, pull the leg backward and also slow forward momentum as the leg swings forward. Hamstring injuries are common but can be remedied or prevented by focusing on the eccentric movement.
How: Lay face up on the ground with calves and feet on top of a swiss ball. Lift your hips up so your body forms a straight line from shoulders to ankles. Curl your feet towards your butt, lifting the hips up simultaneously. You should now be a straight line from shoulders to knees. Engage glutes and tilt pelvis backward, turning on the low abs. Slowly extend legs back out to a count of four. Go right into the next curl without letting hips sink. Perform 10-15 reps. To progress, try a single legged variation.
Works: quads, calves, glutes, core, explosive power, eccentric loading of quads
Importance: The quads take a beating on downhills because of the intense eccentric load. Doing moves such as squats and jumps teach the muscles how to handle the stress better, reducing chance of injury and allowing you to really bomb those hills without trashing the legs as much. Jumping is also a form of plyometric training, which teaches the muscles to fire rapidly with more power. This means you get more power with the same effort, which equals faster running.
How: Start in a lunge position, front knee right over ankle. As forcefully as you can, jump up off both legs at the same time and switch in mid-air, landing back in a lunge with the opposite leg forward. Immediately jump again. Start with 10 jumps and build up to 20.
Works: transverse abdominus
Importance: The TVA is the second most important muscle to prevent running injuries. What the glute meds do for the legs, the TVA does for the pelvis. This deep core muscle is the primary stabilizer of the lumbar spine and pelvis. Without that stabilization, you are faced with excessive pelvic rotation and tilt. This can cause low back pain, internal rotation of the knees, and slumping forward of the shoulders. None of it good for your running.
How: Lay face up on the floor, arms straight up and legs up with knees bent at 90 degrees. Draw your bellybutton in towards your spine and flatten your lower back onto the floor. Slowly extend left leg straight out and right arm overhead as you exhale, keeping low back down. Return to center as you inhale and repeat on other side. Keep the movement controlled, do not rush through it. Start with 10 reps and build up to 20. To progress, loop resistance band around your toes.