April 9 2018
Women's Running brings you the pendulum hip flexor strengthening exercise as part of our Quick and Easy Injury Prevention video series.
Wasted time? No such thing. When you learn these little moves, you can use any pocket of time in life to enhance your running.
Choose the wrong line at the grocery store? Opportunity! Friend late to the movies? Same. Taking an extra-long shake-off-the-chill shower? Yep, you can even turn that into a run booster. “It’s already hard to carve out time to run,” says athletic trainer Anna Hartman, founder of MovementRev in Arizona, whose clients include pro athletes and sports teams. “And it’s usually even harder to carve out time to do exercises that help you run better.” So stop thinking of errands, chores and forced waiting moments as time away from your workout and put them to work for you. Here’s how.
…or after you hit the snooze button in the morning. You can do this while standing, too, says Anthony Carroll, D.P.T., assistant professor of practice at the University of Delaware, but it’s easier to get the hang of it at first if you’re horizontal. Get into position on your back by drawing your heels in toward your butt. Your knees should be bent and your feet flat on the bed or floor. Then draw your navel in toward your spine and up toward your head without letting your pelvis move. Research has found that this helps you activate the deep, transverse abdominis muscles in your pelvis. Keep breathing! If you find yourself holding your breath, try counting out loud—that will keep your breath moving. Your work isn’t done yet, though. This is just a rehearsal for how to stabilize when running. See if you can employ some of the stability you get from accessing those muscles while you’re out there on the road or trail.
To start off right with these, you’ll want to use your hands as a guide. Place your hands on the front of your hips, just inside your pelvic bones, says Carroll. Do an isometric contraction of the muscles under your fingertips—you’ll feel those muscles push out a little bit when you engage them.
Eventually, you’ll know which muscles to access without using your fingers for feedback. Having a hard time with this? Start by lying faceup on the floor, with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground. Don’t hold your breath on this one, either. If you need to count to be sure you’re inhaling and exhaling, do it.
Scientists have shown that this helps you create stability all around your core—including your obliques and lower back. Run experts theorize that more stability equals a more efficient run—you’re not “leaking” energy by letting your middle bounce up and down.
Squeezing your glutes together while you’re standing somewhere helps you learn how it feels to engage them, Carroll says. Remembering to involve them in your running can help stabilize your lower body, and may also prevent you from letting your hips drop—a habit that can potentially lead to issues later on with your pelvis, hips, knees or low back.
“Our feet and our hands are two of our primary sensory organs, but we don’t really use them that way,” Hartman says. “We stick them in socks and shoes and basically deprive them of the ability to sense anything.” That’s a really boring environment for our feet, she says, and does the rest of the body a disservice, too. “Information the feet can get through their sensory nerves tells the spinal cord and muscles how to adjust to your environment.” They’re what help inform you if, for instance, you’re on a flat, polished wood surface or on a rocky hill, which require different things from your body. “There’s a huge connection with how we’re sensing through our feet and how we’re stabilizing our core,” she says. “When your foot is able to be a sensory organ, the muscles get more information. The joints tend to open up more, so you’re also improving the mobility of the foot and ankle. That contributes to lower-back and pelvic health—and healthy running,” she says. Step one in helping your feet get you more information is to just walk around barefoot on the most interesting (safe) surfaces you can find. If you’re comfortable with that, consider putting together a rock mat (see below).
The simple act of sitting on the floor is a huge help in increasing the range of motion in the hips without having to do special exercises or stretches, says Hartman. “It’s the resting position that requires the most mobility in our joints,” she says, which is probably why most of us aren’t sitting on the ground while reading this—after childhood, it’s often just not that comfortable of a spot. “Everyone understands how bad it is to be in a walking boot or a cast—everything gets really tight and immobile. We’re doing the same thing to ourselves with furniture,” she says. But there’s a way to turn the ground into just another nice place to spend time, Hartman says. “Grab some pillows and put them under your bottom until your hips are higher than your knees. I always tell people to grab as many pillows as they think they need, and then grab two more.” As you spend more and more time on the floor—doesn’t matter if your legs are crossed or out in front of you, or turned in or out, just do what’s comfortable for you—you’ll gradually need less and less cushioning as your mobility increases.
Bonus: The more time you spend on the floor, the more you have to get up from it. Try to get up without touching the ground (just like any other new skill, you may have to work up to this). “It takes a lot of strength and stability in your hips and core,” she says. “Those are key spots that need to be nice and strong for you to run well and run without injury.”
A great way to create an interesting environment for your feet so that they can get used to transmitting information to your body is to create a rock mat. Hartman makes them with boot trays—the type that you’d put snow boots on in the mudroom—and fills them with different types of rocks from the landscape section at the home improvement store. Then, she places them where she’s already standing during the day: in the shower (she drills holes in the bottom of the tray for water to drain through), by the bathroom sink, or at the kitchen sink or stove. “There’s no perfect starter rock,” she says. “Some people think big, smooth ones are best, and other people think they’re the most uncomfortable things in the world. You need to go with something that feels right to you, because as soon as your body thinks something is painful, you get tension, which is the opposite of what you want.”