You quickly learn as a runner that – shock horror! – it isn’t just all about running. In fact, the key to becoming a better runner and looking after your body isn’t necessarily about clocking up the miles, but spending more minutes focusing on key muscle groups. Read on to discover five exercises which will slot easily into your daily life while making a massive difference to your running performance. No specialist equipment required!
Nordic curl – great for hamstrings
Hamstring strains are the most common non-contact injury in elite sport, and can put athletes out of action for the long haul. Try the Nordic Curl to keep these mightiest of running muscles in great shape!
Kneel on the ground, with someone sitting behind to hold your ankles. As slowly and smoothly as possible, lean forward so that your chest approaches the ground. Use your hamstrings to control your forward momentum until you can’t resist gravity any longer. When you feel you’re about to fall flat, put your arms out to stop yourself. When your chest touches the ground, push yourself upright to repeat the exercise 8-12 times.
Caring for your calves
Calves might be relatively small in the muscle world, but they take a lot of strain when running and need some attention to keep them operating at full strength.
Stand on tiptoes on the edge of a step. Slowly lower until your heel can’t go any further; then return to the top again on one smooth movement. Repeat for 3 x 15 reps.
You can also try the Soleus Stretch: stand with your feet 10-20cm away from a wall, one foot in front of each other. Then bend both knees until you feel a dull stretch deep in the calf muscle. Try this for 45 seconds on each leg – then rest assured that your soleus (the deeper, flat muscle at the base of your calf) is fully stretched.
Now for the hips and the glutes
Is there anything more satisfying than stretching out tight hips and glutes? We don’t think so. For maximum impact, try pigeon pose (from kneeling, bring one foot forward, then the shin to the floor with the back leg stretched out behind you. If it feels comfortable, settle down onto the elbows) and a laydown glute stretch (laying on your back, bring one foot onto the floor with a bent knee. Bring the other foot to the other knee, then grab through the gap, and pull the knee towards you until you feel a stretch in your hip and glute). A feeling of total ‘nnnng’ guaranteed.
Toes deserve a workout, too
Try some toe raises first – start with your back against a wall, then take a step away. Raise your toes up while keeping your heels on the ground; then, lower them, but don’t allow them to touch the ground. Aim for 4 x 25 reps. You can also tr some towel scrunches – sitting on a chair with a towel in front of you on the floor, use your toes to grab the towel and, by raising and lowering your forefoot, ‘scrunch’ it towards you.