Run Strong: 7 simple steps to take to avoid injury this year

With the mid-winter rains this week starting to knock down Cache Valley’s record setting snowfall, it has gotten me thinking a little about spring, which in turn has gotten me thinking about running.

Running has been described by some as a vital component of the human experience.  In its most primitive form running was utilized as a mode of swift transportation, a tool for collecting food, and a means of escape from danger.

In our modern society, these components of running have evolved.  Some still use it for transportation, but in most cases this is by choice not necessity; trophy’s, medals, and PR’s are collected rather than food; we now use running to escape the danger of boredom, stress, depression, and the tedious environment of modern society.

Well Petersen, philosophically that is all swell, but let’s get to the practical application of this post.  Copy that, let’s dig in.

One of the things I love most about our beautiful intermountain home is the presence of the four seasons.  This adds variety to not only our surroundings, but also to our activities.  Variation in your physical activities is not only a great way to keep from burning out and getting bored, but also a good barrier for avoiding overuse injuries.  One challenge that arises during the transition of one activity form to another is the need of the body to make the adaptations that your new activity presents.  In this post we will discuss a few strategies you can use over the next couple months to help your body make this transition smoothly.

Today we are going to focus on the motor-control system.  But first we need to get some terminology down concerning “planes of motion.”

        Frontal Plane: The frontal plane divides the body into front and back halves.  When discussing movements or exercises in the frontal plane they occur side-to-side (ie leg lifts out to the side)

        Sagittal Plane: The sagittal plane divides your body into right and left halves.  Movements and exercises occur front-to-back (ie hip flexion or extension)

        Transverse Plane: The transverse plane divides your body into top and bottom halves.  These are your twisting motions (ie trunk rotation)

For many, modern day running involves logging miles either on a treadmill or paved route.  This is very much a sagittal plane exercise (technically all three planes are being utilized, but to keep things simple let’s just explore it as a sagittal plane exercise).  The primary motions include hip and knee flexion as you swing your leg forward, and hip and knee extension as you propel yourself forward.  Let’s explore the primary muscles used to accomplish these motions:

-          Hip Flexion: iliopsoas (the “hip flexor”) and rectus femoris (one of the quad muscles)

-          Knee Flexion: hamstrings (and to a lesser degree your calves)

-          Hip Extension: Gluteus maximus (the butt) and hamstrings

-          Knee Extension: Quadriceps (thigh muscles)

-          The calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) perform plantarflexion which is the springing motion of your foot

Running is a great way to get these muscles fit, conditioned, and strengthened.  It is true that injury can occur to these sagittal plane muscles if you start too hard, too fast, or too long; but this post is really going to focus on the other muscles and planes that can get neglected with running.

The Frontal Plane

My experience has shown that motor-control deficits or weakness in the frontal plane muscles is a major contributor to running pain or injury.  As way of reminder your hip frontal plane muscles abduct or swing your leg out to the side; more importantly they prevent your pelvis or knee from caving in.  These are primarily the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, as well as the rotator cuff of the hip.

Whereas the sagittal plane muscles we described previously provide the power, the frontal plane muscles provide the control of the leg.

A little more foundational information concerning the biomechanics of the running motion.  Every stride you take while walking or running will spend at least some time in what is termed single-leg stance.  During single leg stance your entire body weight is balanced on one leg and the frontal plane muscles at your hip prevent your pelvis from dropping or knee from caving in.

So now let’s get into applying all this grand new knowledge you have gained, ha ha. Below we will go over 7 key exercises you can do to get and keep your lumbopelvic (core), hip, and especially frontal plane muscles strong, conditioned, and working smoothly.

1.   Sidelying Leg Lift:

2.   Single Leg Bridge:

3.   Monster Walks:  

4.   Single Leg Squats:

5.   Planks:

6.   Squats:

7.   Lunges:

As you may have noticed in the videos a great deal of time was spent on proper technique and form.

If you are currently having pain/discomfort with running, are concerned that you have weakness or motor control issues with running, or would like some coaching on technique with any of these exercises; please give me a call and we can work through these barriers.

STAY TUNED: in the upcoming months High Country Physical Therapy will be providing further articles addressing running; podcasts with a competitive ultra-marathoner who happens to be a PT and good friend; and a complete runners clinical package which includes a detailed evaluation of movement, strength, control, and gait mechanics aided by video analysis.


Specialist Physical Therapy Clinic serving Logan and the Cache Valley Area