The most fun part about running is, well, running. When you’re crunched for time, exhausted after a long day at work or from chasing after small children, the last thing you probably want to do is banal physical therapy exercises to prevent some mysterious injury that may or may not pop up on the future.
The bad news: those banal exercises are worth it. Knee injuries bite just when you are least expecting them.
The good news: these exercises require no equipment, take less than five minutes, and you only need to do them two or three times a week.
The even better news: not only will these simple (and kind of fun!) exercises prevent all types of injuries, from knee to glute to IT band issues, they will also make you a more efficient, economical, and explosive (read: faster!) runner.
Start off by doing 5 reps on each side (left and right) for each exercise. Take your time! This is a short sequence, and even if you really slow down and focus on each movement you will be done before the commercial break ends. Quality over quantity. Think about which muscles you are engaging. Try to keep your head in line with your spine, your back straight, and your hips level; this will require activating your core! (Which also means you are secretly getting in an ab workout without even realizing it.)
Once 5 reps feel easy after a few weeks, move up to 10 reps on each side.
EXERCISE 1: FIRE HYDRANT
Pretend you are a dog next to fire hydrant. What would you do? Start in tabletop position: on all fours, head in line with your spine looking towards the floor. Keep your back straight. Keeping your knee bent, slowly raise your right leg up the side as far up as it will go. Pause. Slowly lower down. See video example here.
EXERCISE 2: FIRE HYDRANT +
Same as fire hydrants, but this time, once your leg is extended, straighten your knee. Lower your leg back down. See video example here.
EXERCISE 3: DONKEY KICKS
Who doesn’t want to be a donkey?! They are adorable. This exercise will make your behind adorable. Once again, begin in the tabletop position and engage your core. Keeping your knee bent, lift your right leg up behind you. Make sure to keep your hips level and your back straight. Slowly lower your leg back down. See video example here.
EXERCISE 4: JANE FONDA
Channel your inner spandex-clad ‘80s diva. It’s time for side raises. Lie on your left side, left arm extended straight out or propping your head up. Slowly raise your right leg, making sure to engage your side hip muscles and glutes. You should not feel this in your hip flexor. Your leg should feel like it gets stuck after not raising it very high. Hold at the top for a pause, and then slowly lower your leg back down. See video example here.
EXERCISE 5: BIRD DOG
Don’t ask why this exercise is called bird dog, because we have no idea. But we do know that it is a powerhouse one-stop-shop for strengthening your core, back, and glutes, which translates into a rock solid chain, better posture and balance, and more power!
Remain on all fours. Engage your abs, keeping your spine and head in a neutral position (i.e. look at the floor). Slowly extend your left leg back while reaching your right arm forward. Keep your hips and shoulders square and don’t arch your back. Hold for a pause. Slowly retract your arm and leg until your knee touches your elbow under your torso. After five reps, repeat with your right leg and left arm. See video example here.