Learn how to perfect your running mechanics and 3 of the absolute BEST exercises for runners! Natalie Snyder, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS, our sports PT specialist, is here to help make this running season your best yet! Keep reading!
>> I just run for exercise. I am training for a 10K, a 12K, a half-marathon and have my eyes on a full marathon next year. I’m worried though- by knees, shins and feet keep bothering me. What can I do?
>> Oh, I hate the gym, I just want to run! Sometime’s I’ll do ankle band exercises, about 100x on each direction.
>> What strength exercises are you doing for running?
>> Ok then, let’s take a look at how you run, and make a plan for taking care of all those niggles you are dealing with.
What are the common findings I see in my running analysis videos?
Before I dive right into it, let’s talk about running mechanics. I want to tell you the reasoning and the specifics of how I analyze my runners’ mechanics on the treadmill or outside. Here’s how a session will go:
- I allow the runners to take a few minutes to warm-up with their running to their preferred or training pace.
- Then, I take the video from the posterior view (behind) and the side view.
- I let the video record for a few seconds, then I slow down the videos myself manually with my finger, watching and comparing bilaterally (both sides of the body).
- I will then list what I see and the BEST exercises the runner can do to prevent injury and continue running pain-free! (Don’t worry, I keep it simple :)) These exercises are specific to what I see in the runners mechanic pattern!
What am I looking for?
I look for patterns. Such as:
- In the landing mechanics
- Stride length
- Heel strike
- Ankle mobility
- Calf strength
- Knee mechanics
- Knee, hip alignment
- Hip extension
- Trunk position
- Head position
- Shoulder positions
- Arm movements
- And the cadence
Phew, that sounds like a lot! But these are all pieces to the puzzle that helps me analyze and decipher what is going on and where we can make improvements to help the client run more efficiently and pain-free!
→ In the posterior view, I am looking for the hip drop more than 5 degrees on either side and whether the knee caves in, which is a risk for knee instability.
Exercise #1: Fire Hydrant
- Stand tall and shift body weight onto one leg
- Try not to move your pelvis as you raise your knee
- Open your hip by moving the knee to the side and slightly back behind you
- Bring knee back in alignment with other knee, and repeat.
- To progress: add a band around the knees.
Exercise #2a: Runners’ March to Single Leg Deadlift:
- Stand tall with your arm straight up to the sky
- Bring the knee up high towards your chest *(action is driven by the core)
- Squeeze the glute myscle of the standing leg forward for maximal hip extension
- Keep your knee on your standing leg straight, with a slight bend in your knee.
- Then hinge at your hip, moving your trunk forward with a neutral spine.
- You may not touch the floor but that’s okay.
- You may feel a slight stretch in your hamstring, and that’s perfect.
- To progress: Add dumbbells or kettlebell weight in your hand.
Both Standing Fire Hydrant & Single Leg Deadlift not only allows you to practice your balance, but also improves pelvic symmetry and hip stability with the abductors, adductors, and low back muscles.
→ In the lateral view, I am looking for the erect trunk position, foot landing under the hips, and the powerful triple extension of the hip, knee, and the ankle for forward propulsion.
Exercise #2b: The Runner’s March Plank
*This can be carried over to the Single Leg Deadlift (exercise #2) to train for the erect posture, full hip extension with gluteus maximus engagement, and the high knee drive driven by the core.
- Keep your body flat, arms straight, and lean into a wall. (In a modified plank position)
- Lift one knee up, while squeezing the glute of the standing leg towards the wall/ AKA hip extension (this is the most important piece!)
- Lower foot, repeat on the other leg
Exercise #3: Standing Single Leg Calf Raises & Wall-Sit Calf Raises
The following exercises are great for strengthening the gastrocnemius and soleus (calf muscles) to improve endurance and power at the ankles and prevent shin injuries.
- Start standing with weight in one foot, OR lean against a wall (in a wall-sit position)
- Lift the heel (standing) OR heels (seated) off the ground
- Lower, and repeat
- To progress: Add weights held in one hand for standing single leg calf raise and weight on your thighs for wall-sit or seated calf raises.
In summary, PT’s Big Three Exercises for Runners:
- Fire-Hydrants with Band
- Runners March with full Hip Extension to Single Leg Deadlift
- Single Leg Calf Raise & Wall Sit Calf Raise with weights
Now say it with me:
“I want to be active. I want to keep doing what I love to do. I want to set myself up for success for the whole summer. I am ready to master the running foundation.”
Disclaimer: Just remember!
YOU are UNIQUE. YOUR running is UNIQUE. YOUR puzzle set is UNIQUE. This article is written for the general public and addresses the most common issues I see during running assessments. These exercises are critical for runners’ fundamental biomechanics, injury prevention, and optimal progression to better performance. However, the best exercises for YOU can not be generalized- you may need some exercises that precede these exercises. Curious about personalized suggestions or scheduling a running analysis? I am happy to help!
Natalie Snyder, PT, DPT, OCS, CSCS
- Board-Certified Orthopaedic Clinician Specialist
- Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
- Shoulders Specialist & Female Athlete Specialist