We’ve all been there: when you feel it, you’re out for your routine run or pushing hard in a race. A twist, pop, pull or pinch that stops you in your tracks. As you hobble to the finish or head home, you probably find yourself wondering what on earth you did or how you could have prevented it. 

Runners are prone and susceptible to a great many injuries. No matter how experienced you are, the likelihood of sustaining an injury during your running career is relatively high. The most common running injuries include runner’s knee, Achilles tendonitis, IT band syndrome, shin splints and plantar fasciitis. If you’ve ever suffered from one or more of these conditions, you know that they hurt and can keep you from hitting your goals. 

The best way to deal with these types of injuries is to avoid them in the first place. Easier said than done, right? In fact, you can do several strengthening exercises that will work the right parts of your body and help prevent injuries on the track or trail. 

It’s All in the Hips

Often, running injuries stem from other root causes like weakness in specific muscles, decreased flexibility, or training errors. Dr. Robert Wilder is the medical director of the University of Virginia Center for Endurance Sport and clarifies that safe, strong running starts with stability. 

“Almost all common overuse injuries are related to a lack of pelvic stability,” Dr. Wilder notes, and we can’t help but agree. Strengthening your hips directly improves the stability of your legs. Stronger hips reduce your chance of injury and keep your legs from tiring as quickly, giving you more power for speed and endurance for distance. 

Step to It

Even if you’re already hitting the weights or slapping on an exercise band regularly, the chances are high that you’re neglecting some surprisingly key muscle groups. Don’t worry; we’ve got your back: take a look at the exercises below to find out how you can prevent running injuries and improve your performance, all in one shot.  

Lateral Band Walks

This exercise is a strong bet for preventing IT band issues and patellofemoral pain (runner’s knee). 

With a mini-band resistance loop around and just above both ankles, take small steps (about 4-6 inches each), walk about 20 feet in one direction, and then go the other way. Repeat this twice. Keep steady tension on the band with toes pointed straight ahead. Your legs should be stiff (be careful not to hyperextend those knees) and abs should stay tight.

Side Lift

Suppose you’re looking for an alternative or supplement to the exercise above. In that case, side lifts will do the trick to enhance pelvic stability by engaging gluteus muscles and extending the hip flexors.

Start by lying on your left side, with your left knee bent at about 60 degrees. Align your hips with your shoulders, and rest your right hand on your right hip, with your head on your other arm. Flex your right foot and raise your right leg a few inches off the floor; lift it back, rotate it slightly towards the ceiling (no more than 45 degrees), and return to start. Fifteen reps on each side is a great place to start. 

Static Lateral Band Taps

Keep the theme running with pelvic strengthening here.

Place a small resistance band loop around and slightly above both ankles. Move into a slight squat with your buttocks back and knees in front of your ankles. Keeping your hip, knee and foot in line, shift your weight to one side and tap the other foot out to the side about 4-6 inches. Two sets of twenty taps on each side is a good start.  

Single-Leg Stabilization

This simple exercise helps develop each leg’s stability, strength and balance.

Secure a resistance band on a secure object, then step inside the band, so it rests on the outside of one hip with easy tension. Stand only on the opposite leg with an upright posture, tightening your abs and lifting your knee (one on the same side as the band) to a 90-degree angle, then lower it again without touching your foot to the ground. Do twenty reps on each side, two times.

Soleus Step Stretch

This exercise helps ward off issues like Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and shin splints by improving soleus flexibility. 

Stand on a step with one foot on the step, with the other foot’s heel hanging over the edge of the step. Gently lower your heel, bending your knee slightly. Three reps of 30 seconds each on each side should do it. 

Strengthening for the Win

If these exercises seem easy, they’re designed to be that way. Injury prevention is about strengthening and stabilizing muscles and joints, not pushing them to the limit. By performing simple exercises regularly and accurately, you’ll reduce your risk of injury and boost your speed. That’s an all-around win for runners at any stage and adds longevity to your favorite workout.