Just For Runners: Lateral Strength and Stability from the Side-Lying Leg Series
Spring has finally (yes, finally!) sprung in Vermont and more and more people are taking their runs outside again. Feeling the fresh air after a winter of treadmill running is glorious. But dodging potholes and navigating mud season’s mix of puddles, squishy mud, sandy roads and sometimes still-icy sidewalks can really challenge our stabilization. Since running is a forward-moving exercise, muscles that lend us stability side-to-side tend to be weaker in many runners. Strengthening inner thighs, outer thighs, hips and glutes aids in balance and lateral stabilization, and can prevent IT band problems.
Most runners are strongest in the four muscles of the quads, but can be weaker in their hamstrings and glutes, and weakest in the inner thighs (adductors). When the adductors are weak, runners have a harder time keeping their feet in good alignment and can tend to roll outward on the foot causing ankle, knee and hip strain (just typing those words makes me say “ouch!”). The outer thighs (abductors) and glutes (minimus and medius) compensate for weak adductors by allowing the leg rotate inward. When the leg is rotated inward, the IT band (a band of fibrous tissue that runs down the outside of the thigh stabilizing the knee and hip joints) begins to slip over the knee or hip joint causing irritation, inflammation and pain. Weak abductors and glutes also can account for lack of balance or compromised stability.
You can support the quads and hamstrings by strengthening the adductors and abductors. Balancing out muscle strength brings the joints into proper alignment, which helps absorb the shock of high-impact exercise such as running. Efficiently utilizing more leg muscles increases endurance and leads to better balance when making quick lateral motions such as avoiding potholes or rebalancing after slipping on ice (hopefully not until next fall or winter) or sandy roads.
By using side-lying Pilates exercises, you’ll strengthen both the adductors and abductors, bringing proper alignment to the hips, knees and ankles. For stabilization, you’ll target the oblique muscles in the core and the quadratus lumborum in the back (that’s the muscle you use to raise your hip up onto a bar stool; it’s also a fantastic deep-core stabilizer). Doing this series will help to keep the IT band in place, preventing injury and making you a stronger runner!
Single Leg Lift: Start side-lying with your shoulders and hips stacked on top of one another. Use your deep core muscles to stabilize your hips and pelvis, pulling your navel in and up. Holding your abs, lift the top leg about 8-12 inches; it does not have to go high to fire up the abductors. Inhale as you lift, exhale as you lower. Do 10 reps.
Double Leg Lift: Then squeezing both legs together lift them up as one unit, letting the inner thighs remain connected. Exhale to lift, inhale to lower. Do 10 reps.
Side Scissor: Next lift both legs off the floor just a couple of inches, so that it looks as if you’re standing up. Flex both feet and scissor the bottom leg front and the top leg back. Activate your quads so the legs do not bend. Make sure your abs are still fired up! Lift the top arm to the ceiling for an added balance challenge! Do 20 reps.
Lateral Flexion: Finally, with your bottom arm, place the palm down on your mat [or grassy spot ;)]. The other palm lies on the outside of your pant leg. Exhale to stabilize your center and press into the palm on your mat while you lift both legs off the floor. Think of the ribcage flexing down toward the hips. Keep your hips stacked! The top hip usually wants to sink behind you, so use the obliques and the quadratus lumborum to stay steady. Do 8 reps.
Bonus! If you can name the house behind me in all of these pictures, I will give you a prize: a 6-foot flex band to add resistance to your workouts! First to answer correctly wins! Leave your comment below to win. Good luck!