Clamshells, side plank, standing straight leg raise, single-limb squat, and lunges are key exercises for runners. Find out why they’re important and whether you’re doing them correctly.
Many of the essential exercises we do as runners can seem so familiar that we go through the motions mindlessly. Yet, doing an exercise incorrectly means that you’re not getting the benefit of that exercise, and it can also set you up for injury. Moreover, many seemingly basic exercises actually require subtle attention to form in order to do correctly. In particular, exercises like clamshells and lunges are really easy to do wrong. When doing clamshells, it’s easy to roll the pelvis back as you lift your knee. In a standing leg raise, it’s common to lean to one side. And with lunges, many people’s knee comes too far forward of the toe.
Such mistakes are the subject of the Runner’s World video “Rehab the Right Way.” In it, physical therapist Craig Souders takes Articles Editor Katie Neitz through five essential exercises—clamshells, side plank, standing straight leg raise, single-limb squat, and lunges—first demonstrating common mistakes then showing the correct way to do each exercise.
The exercises build strength in the hip/butt area (and in particular, the gluteus medius), which is why these exercises are so key. For most of us, the groups of muscles that form hip/butt area is one of the weakest areas of our body. That’s not surprising considering most of us spend a large part of the day in full rest-mode with our backsides fused to our chair. Yet having strong hips and gluteal muscles is essential for runners, and some believe that especially true of gluteus medius. In the article “Gluteus Medius: Weak Buttocks Ruin the Runner,” on Sports Injury Bulletin, physiotherapist Sean Fyfe writes:
The gluteus medius should be considered in every running injury. So many athletes with running overuse injuries of the lower limb present with poor gluteus medius function that I have come to the view that the strength and function of this muscle is probably the most important active component in the achievement of a biomechanically efficient running technique. This is not so surprising when you consider that during running you are always either completely in the air or dynamically balanced on one leg.
The exercises shown in the Runner’s World video, especially clamshells, can also help prevent piriformis syndrome (which is often paired with sciatica). Piriformis syndrome literally feels like a pain deep in the butt. And like many running injuries, it can be very difficult to get rid of, especially if you’re ramping up on training, like one woman I know right now who is training for the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, she’s dealing with this painful issue at a time when she’d rather be 100% focused on the amazing journey of getting to Hopkinton. In the Triathelete article “Piriformis Syndrome Treatment, Prevention and Exercises,” Dr. Jordan Metzl writes:
Runners, cyclists and rowers are the athletes most at risk for piriformis syndrome. They engage in pure forward movement, which can weaken hip adductors and abductors, the muscles that allow us to open and close our legs. Throw in some weak glutes, and all those poorly conditioned muscles put extra strain on the piriformis. And you’ve got a painful problem.
So take a look at the video, and stay healthy. Let’s think of this as a prehab video, and avoid needing rehab! @Diann_D
Note: The first part of the video contains a lunge to diagnose weakness; the how-to portion starts around 1:30.