Get out and run! – Exercises that prevent injuries and build strength for running

It’s almost running season! I am so pumped about it – running is my bliss! I can have the most stressful day turn into absolute calm and serenity by going out for a midday or late day run. If you are like me and run mostly in fair weather conditions, then you’ve probably not been running as frequently over the winter months than you will be when the sunshine and warmth arrives!

When we first start running after any hiatus, we need to be very careful that we build up our distances and frequencies carefully. I know all about this – I joined a team to run the Banff-Jasper relay with only 5 weeks to the race, and my section of the race was 17 Km completely uphill. I did it, and I did it well, but training from a 5K base to 17K in 5 weeks caused me to develop a stress fracture in my foot that put me out of running for almost the rest of the summer…

The other component to injury prevention is building strength in the “running” muscles. I don’t just mean your Quads, Glutes and Hams. I’m talking about strengthening all the stabilizing muscles that play an important role in keeping your body in alignment while you pound the pavement. Here are some of the best exercises that every runner should do at least 3-4 times/ week

1. Clamshells (for Gluteus Medius)

Clamshell Leigh Chmilar

This muscle is probably the most important stabilizer – if it is weak, it can cause lower back pain, knee pain or ankle pain due to improper alignment. To do this one:


  • Lay on one side, with knees and hips bent at about 30°. Keep your ankles, knees and hips stacked over the other vertically (very important!)
  • Keeping your ankles together, slowly lift your top knee so that your legs make an open clamshell
  • Hold for a few seconds, and lower back down. Perform about 20 – 30 reps, and switch sides.
  • Keeping your ankles together, slowly lift your top knee so that your legs make an open clamshell
  • Hold for a few seconds, and lower back down. Perform about 20 – 30 reps, and switch sides.

2. Reverse Fly (Middle Trapezius, Rhomboids and Latissimus Dorsi)

Reverse Fly Leigh Chmilar

When we begin to fatigue while running, the most common thing I see is people shoulder shrugging. Our shoulders tend to lift upwards, causing a lot of tightness in the upper Trapezius, and can lead to neck pain and headaches over time. We also tend to hunch forwards, causing our chest to tighten up and give poor posture. To compensate for this, we need to exercise our mid and lower back – the Latissimus Dorsi and Erector Spinae group. This will pull open and down the shoulders, correcting the posture. The back extension is simple, and there are many variations to make it easier, or more challenging:

  • Lying face down on a stability ball or an inclined bench, hold light or medium-weighted dumbbells
  • Keeping your elbows slightly bent (but not actually bending or straightening the elbow),
  • Pull the weights back while squeezing your shoulder blades together and down so that you are feeling a squeeze in your middle back
  • Perform 8-12 reps two to three times.

3. Side Planks (Internal & External Obliques, Transverse Abdominus, Rectus Abdominus)

Side Plank Leigh Chmilar

Alright, let’s be clear – your core is super important when you’re running. If we had no core strength, our upper body would look like a wet noodle on top of two legs (I hope you laughed out loud picturing that). So while your hauling your butt down the path on an awesome run, you’ll notice your arms are a-pumpin (at least they should be!). So notice that most of the time, our torso is not twisting side to side while we pump our arms. Our chest faces forwards, and should stay that way, thanks to our abdominals. It’s so important to keep those babies nice and strong, to help prevent any upper body injuries, and improve efficiency in your running. My favourite exercise for the core is the side plank – and then adding a dip if you are more advanced:

  • Lying on your side, prop up your upper body on your elbow, keeping it right below the shoulder
  • With your hips stacked above one another, lift your hip up to the ceiling by engaging the side of your core (modifications are shown in the second photo)
  • To make it more challenging, lift your top arm and/or leg in the air (last photo), and add a dip to lower yourself down to the mat, and squeeze yourself back up into starting position.
  • Begin these exercises by holding for 30 seconds, and then increase the time as you become stronger. And try to look a little happier doing them than I do…. ☺

Thanks for trying out these exercises – and I’ll see you on the pathways!

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