Stanford University researchers analysed a single stride sequence to determine which muscles activate and when. We asked a trainer how to strengthen your weak spots to run your best.
1. Take Off
Most runners don’t extend their hips properly because their legs don’t stretch back enough, says Jay Dicharry, strength and conditioning coach and director of the Speed Clinic at the University of Virginia. They compensate by landing in front of their body, adding to the impact. The key to diffusing impact is to land closer to your centre of gravity, he says. A shorter, quicker stride helps. And once a week, run barefoot on grass. “You’ll avoid landing heavily on your heels,” Dicharry says. “You’ll naturally take shorter strides and land closer to your body.”
Stretch Your Hip Flexors
After a run, kneel on one knee, keeping your back straight. Tilt your pelvis backwards and hold for 60 seconds. Repeat three times on each side.
Compressive force peaks during the mid-stance phase of your gait, while you’re on one leg. “Stabilising muscles [in your core and glutes] have to keep you from rotating or leaning too much so you don’t increase stress on the body’s tissues,” says Dicharry. These muscles are often underdeveloped in runners.
Strengthen Your Stabilisers
Stand on one leg for 30 seconds, 10 times per leg, each day. An ideal time: while brushing your teeth.
Your arms don’t help drive your body forwards, the Stanford study found. “They only balance the twisting of your legs to stabilise your torso,” says study author Dr Sam Hamner. If you flare your elbows or cross your forearms while you run, you may have weak core stabilisers, Dicharry says.
Carve That Core
Lie on your side, prop yourself up on your elbow and forearm and rest both feet on a bench. Ease your hip towards the floor and back up. After 10 reps, switch sides. Do three sets per side.
The hamstrings, gastrocnemius and soleus propel your body forwards, the study found. To strengthen them, try the walking lunge: with your feet hip-width apart and hands on your hips, step forwards with your right foot and bend your right knee 90 degrees. Keep your back straight. Stand up and repeat with your left leg. Do three sets of eight to 10 reps on each side.Picture courtesy Craig Kolesky for Wings for Life World Run