The Most Important Exercise for Runners
In the noise of discussions and debates about technique, one of the most vital aspects of training for runners always gets lost – strength conditioning. It is so important that I can not emphasize it strongly enough. Lack of adequate strength is a sure road to underperformance and injuries. Lucky for us, while building strength we can also assist our recovery if already injured (so a specifically designed strength training routine can easily be used for rehab), we can definitely improve our racing times and keep on improving overall. It’s a chain reaction – doing the right thing, the right exercises helps you to feel better physically, gets you better results, that in turn makes you happy, and, you want and, most importantly, can run more and for longer and go further.
The Most Important Exercise
If there was one exercise I would recommend – it’s this one. My team calls it hip-dips, I call it strength conditioning exercise for hips. It’s actually one of about 65 strength conditioning exercise for hips for hips that I described in the original Pose Method of running book. In our video series we used the essential and easily doable ones, but if you have time and desire for more exercises and various versions of the hip dips, then get the book and you can make up your own strength routine, as well as create routines of different levels of difficulty.
It’s a simple exercise but I’ve seen so many ways it was done that I feel obligated to describe how to do it correctly.
- Get into a position as if you’re preparing for push ups. Make sure it’s an even non-slippery surface.
- Make sure to place your hands on the floor right under your body shoulder width apart in order to support your bodyweight correctly.
- Shoes on or off, place your feet as you normally would for push ups, at least a foot apart to keep balance.
- Keep your arms extended but do not lock your elbows or shoulders.
- Move your hips. This is key. Don’t actively move anything else. Let the limbs change position in response to hips leading the movement.
- Do 1-2 sets of 10-15 reps
I don’t like to single out exercises or create the ‘top 5’ lists, but given the time constraints of our daily lives, if I could point out anything and help you to correctly allot your time, then I’m glad to do it.
Running Specific Strength
As I always point out, strength training for runners is not your regular strength training. While some parts of general strength training are, without a doubt, great for runners and all types of athletes, and regular people, there is a whole lot of strength exercises that are specific and important for runners.
Our general strength gets a very minor boost (but it’s something at least) on daily basis when we go about doing our daily tasks – going upstairs or downstairs, sitting down or getting up, etc. Unfortunately that is not enough to create or maintain the level of strength conditioning necessary for a decent running experience. I often see runners training and ignoring the very exercises that would mean everything to their improvement and if they would just swap a whole lot of ‘other’ exercises for the running specific strength exercises, their training would become more effective right away.
I developed these hip strength exercises back in the 70s-80s when training and teaching my athletes at the University. Through the years of working with athletes of various levels and backgrounds I’ve seen enough confirmation of the importance of hip strength. Of course, it is important for all athletes for obvious reasons, but no other group than runners could benefit more from paying special attention to strength training and developing hips strength in general. For years runners have neglected what is a common practice for all other sports and that was one of the biggest contributing factors to creating the epidemic of injuries that we are facing today.
Hips are part of your core, but I prefer to specifically refer to and highlight the hips due to a very common misconception that the term core refers to abs and low back muscle groups only. Your core includes your hips. Hips are the biomechanical center of your body. That is as core as it gets.
Why It’s Important
The importance of these exercises is in the fact that hips and their well being, so to say, affects the integrated movement of the whole body. While hips by no means carry any power to propel you anywhere, their stability and strength do provide the path for mechanical flow through the body during the support and flight phases. Strong hips almost literally equal better running experience. Add proper technique in that mix and you’re flying.
Stronger hips will also serve as a preventative measure to ward off lower back problems. And as it usually goes, there is a chain reaction effect there as well. Stronger hips will help to maintain the proper running pose which in turn will help with an entire list of common running related injuries that stem from inability to maintain the running pose. We are talking about knee injuries, shin splints, hamstring injuries and on and on.
As you see, this area of your ‘runner’s body’ justifies proper attention and if you only have 5 minutes today – do the hip dips and enjoy your running.
Learning running specific strength training and proper running technique are part of the Pose Method® Running Course. This seminar offers 16 CE hours towards continuing education for Certified CrossFit Trainers and Physical Therapists. Athletes and parents of school age children are encouraged to attend.