Injured runners frequently come to see physical therapist Brian Noehren with their shoes and orthotics in tow, regaling him with tales of how they’ve cycled through different brands and models of shoes in an attempt to treat themselves.
They’re not alone in suspecting their footwear. In a recent survey asking runners to name the biggest injury culprits, “wearing the wrong running shoes” ranked third (behind “not stretching” and “excessive training”). Sometimes, footwear does deserve the blame, as in the case of one of Brian’s patients who wore the same pair for nearly a decade.
But far more frequently, the problem isn’t the gear, or even how your foot hits the ground (heel strikers are not doomed to injury, as once thought). Instead, research is pointing to a different culprit, one that many runners tend to overlook: the hips. Experts believe that detecting and correcting weaknesses and imbalances in the hips could be the key to getting you back on the road, and keeping you there.
Get Strong And Healthy
When runners call his Running Injury Clinic, it doesn’t matter what ails them – an achy hamstring, knee or foot – Reed Ferber, associate professor at the University of Calgary in Canada, prescribes hip-strengthening exercises (phase 1, below). He instructs them to do the moves every day for four weeks, and to call back if they aren’t feeling better.
“Often, I don’t hear back from them; sometimes, I do get an e-mail of gratitude,” he says. “This routine is based on our research. These exercise should be a part of every runner’s injury prevention and rehabilitation protocol.”
Prof Ferber’s full plan contains four phases. Here’s Phase 1 for the first four weeks. (For the full phase, get our May issue out on newsstands now!)
How Many, How Often?
For best results, do the exercises every day. On your first day of each phase, do 1 set of 10 reps. On your second and third days, do 2 sets of 10 reps. Beginning on the fourth day, do 3 sets of 10 reps.
PHASE 1 (WEEK 1-4)
1. Hip Abductor Strengthener
Secure a resistance band to a stable object. Stand with your left side facing the band’s anchor. Place your right ankle in the band. Move your right leg out to your side while keeping your knee straight. Raise your leg out to a count of two, and lower it to a count of two, keeping your movement slow and controlled. Repeat on the other leg.
Watch Out For Keep your upper body still. If you’re leaning, you’re cheating.
2. Hip Flexor Strengthener
Secure a resistance band to a stable object. Stand facing away from the band’s anchor, with the band around your left ankle. Lift your left leg out while keeping the knee straight. Raise your leg to a count of two, and lower it to a count of two, keeping your movement slow and controlled. Repeat on the other leg.