I’m usually lucky enough to dodge the worst that flu season has to offer, but unfortunately not this year. Whatever has been circulating amongst the population latched on to me a couple of weeks ago and launched an all out assault against my body. My immune system, often a strong point, fought bravely for days to stem the tide of germs but eventually succumbed to the pressure. It’s been a rough couple of weeks, with little in the way of activity and lots of comfort food (yum but oh so bad!) to nurse me through the worst of it.
I’m starting to emerge from the worst of it, but am now faced with the prospect of having to work just that little bit harder to get myself back to where I was before the germs declared war.
Us runners live for days like these though.
Over the course of my recent downtime I was reading a lot about various running injuries and preventative measures that athlete’s can take to avoid common problems. Curiously, it seems as though the feet and ankles are the most overlooked area of the casual athlete’s body.
This often leads to various foot injuries or joint problems in and around the ankles. I say curiously since the feet and ankles are central to the running form and take the majority of the front line beating. Perhaps we runners (and I include myself in this generalization) should spend a little more time focusing on the various impact and stress points instead of blindly trying to build muscle mass. Outlined here are some basic foot and ankle exercises, collectively designed to build strength and help limit the wear and tear that results from long miles on the road or track.
|Single-Leg Directional Hops
||Improves ankle and knee stability for a stronger push-off and landing.
To Do: Standing on your left leg, with the right knee raised to hip height, hop forward, landing softly. Hop back to start, then hop diagonally (to the left) and back to center, hop to the left and return to start.
Do 12 reps; switch legs.
||Develops energy transfer from landing to push-off; strengthens the lateral knee muscles for improved stability.
To Do: Lunge the left leg forward. With quick force, push the left foot off the floor and into a diagonal lunge to the left, keeping the hips straight. Push the left foot off the floor again, landing in a lunge to the left side, keeping the upper body stacked over the hips. That’s one rep. (Each rep should take about three seconds to complete.)
Do six reps; switch legs.
||Builds strength from the feet up through the hips for better transfer of power.
To Do: Standing in the bottom of a squat position with feet hip-width apart and shoulders stacked over hips, shoot your legs out to the sides and your arms out to shoulder height (like a regular jumping jack) without moving your upper body.
Do 16 to 24 reps.
|Single-Leg Mountain Climbers
||Strengthens foot-strike muscles; engages hip flexors, quads, glutes, and core.
To Do: Starting in a plank position, with abs engaged, bend your left knee and pin it against the right knee. Hop your right foot forward to waist distance, landing lightly on the ball of your foot and keeping the left leg from touching the ground. Then, shoot the right foot back, keeping knees pinned and left leg raised. That’s one rep.
Do 16 reps; switch legs.
I find it interesting how both of the issues that have plagued me over the last year can be connected back to one of the most basic activities a runner can undertake. Ever since I started running I have been plagued by heavy legs. It’s probably something that most runners have encountered, but something I could never get to the bottom of. When running, my legs feel like blocks of concrete and they become a focus of my attention. My breathing and recovery intervals are fine, but my legs feel so heavy that I often struggle to overcome the desire to slow down and walk. Amazingly, the answer was staring me in the face all along. My legs were heavy because my muscles were tight, and my muscles were tight because I was not stretching them enough.
Although it’s true that stretching was featured on my training plan, clearly it wasn’t something I paid a lot of attention to. Seldom was I in a position where I could dedicate time to stretching out my legs, back, and core muscles. I was always running here or there (sometimes with a struggle). But acting on the advice of my physical therapist, I have started to stretch more often and have developed a customized set of activities that focus on key running muscles. I also have a set of recovery stretches and strength exercises that are aimed and promoting healing and muscle building in my knees.
- Wall Pushups
- Back Scratch
- Heel to Buttock
- Hip & Lower Back
- IT Band
Knee Rehab Stretching & Strength Building
- Standing Calf
- Heel Slide
- Straight Leg Raise
- Side Lying Leg Lift
- Wall Squat w/ Ball
- IT Band
Please note that I am not a trained medical professional and this information is provided in the context of my own experiences for reference purposes only. These plans were designed with my specific situation in mind. If you suffer from similar problems or are designing your own stretching program, please seek out the advice of a trained professional.