Amanda MacMillan, SELF magazine
The sport of running is more popular than ever. Unfortunately, so are running injuries and ailments: In fact, 82 percent of runners get injured at some point or another, says Jay Dicharry, director of the SPEED Performance Clinic and Motional Analyst Lab at the University of Virginia.
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To protect yourself, what you do off-road is just as important as what you do on, says Dicharry in his new book, Anatomy for Runners, out this month. The book includes a full-body routine of exercises and stretches you can do at home -- using simple props like a broomstick and a stool -- to prepare your body for faster, smarter running.
"Stability needs to be built from the bottom up," says Dicharry. "Changing your muscle memory is all about making the muscles smarter." These three exercises, along with others in his book, will help you improve coordination and retrain specific muscles to work with correct alignment -- something that's important no matter how often or how you run (barefoot or not!). Try to do them frequently throughout the week to improve your form and strengthen the muscles that keep you strong and safe.
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Improve your lateral hip stability from the muscles in the back of the hip, not the front. This exercise is frequently done wrong, making the benefits dissolve away. To ensure you get the most out of it, setup is critical. Begin by lying on your side with your torso and pelvis both perpendicular to the ground. Next, straighten the spine. When lying on our side, many of us slump into the floor. Slightly lift the belly up off the floor to create a stable core position. Now that you have established proper alignment, it's time to fire the glute medius. Squeeze your glutes tight like you have a quarter stuck between your butt cheeks. With your feet resting on each other, lift only the knee up until it's level with the hip. Lower the knee down keeping the glute contracted the entire time. Complete 100 reps daily.
Simply try to raise/lower the little toes and big toe independently of each other to improve coordination. Do this several times a day until easily mastered. Since it's targeting a change in control and not strength, improvements are rapid -- usually noticeable in a few days to two weeks. Do this daily for 3 to 4 minutes per foot until it is easy.
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Chair of death
OK, this exercise won't really kill you, but it will completely rewire the way you move. Take the emphasis off of your quads and shift it to your glutes. Grab a stick (pipe, broom, yardstick) so that it is touching your tailbone, your back, and the middle of your head. Stand facing a chair. The front of your knees should actually be touching the chair. As you squat down, move your butt backwards, Just like you are doing the "hover" over a toilet. The most important thing is to make sure that the bar doesn't come off the back of your body and that you hinge from your hip. It's OK to lean the trunk forward here when starting. Your first goal is to be able to squat to parallel (horizontal thighs) and the long-term goal is to be able to lower well beyond parallel (almost to the ground). As your glute strength improves, you'll be able to keep your torso more upright and lower down further. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
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