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3 Pre-Run Exercises to Prevent Injuries and Boost Performance

Spending more time oudoors running, walking, or hiking this spring? Dr. Jonathan Su, the Get-Fit Guy, shows you 3 simple warm-up exercises to prevent injuries and boost performance. 

By
Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT
5-minute read
Episode #579
The Quick And Dirty
  • The hip abductors, hip adductors, hamstrings, and core muscles are commonly overlooked by most people, which can create stress and strain from inefficient mechanics while walking, running, or hiking. 
  • You'll likely notice better performance and reduced aches and pains by performing the single-leg tuck, bridge with alternating marches, and hip adductor squeeze right before a run, walk, or hike.

Now that we’re in the full swing of spring with more moderate weather, most people are spending more time outdoors engaging in activities such as running, walking, or hiking. It’s a great way to soak in the beauty of spring and enjoy quality time with friends or family while also getting exercise.

The weather here in the San Francisco Bay Area has been spectacular so my partner Farah and I decided to take our preschooler and toddler on their first real hike. We made the 1.8-mile out-and-back hike that included over 100 steps down to a rocky, secluded beach along the Land’s End Coastal Trail in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. 

After spending some time playing in the sand and stacking rocks on top of each other, we made our way back up the trail—with me carrying our toddler of course. I was really feeling the burn in my legs about two-thirds of the way back up the steps and it made me think about how incredible the human body is to be able to perform repetitive movements such as walking, running, and hiking for prolonged periods with relatively few issues. 

Allow me to nerd out for a moment: assuming the average person has a stride length of 2 to 2.5 feet, it takes about 2,000 steps to walk 1 mile. A study published in 2010 of over 1,000 Americans found that participants averaged about 5,000 steps a day, which adds up to over 1.8 million steps a year. 

If you run, walk, or hike two days or more a week for exercise, you can easily more than double that if you combine the number of steps you perform during exercise with the number of steps you perform throughout the day. 

The human body is truly an incredible machine to be just fine racking up that many steps every year. Well, just fine until you start feeling aches and pains that are more than just normal muscle soreness. 

If this is you, don’t worry, you’re not alone, because most people who run, walk, or hike for exercise are bound to experience aches and pains at some point. If you’re one of the few lucky ones who has never had an issue, you’ll still want to keep listening to find out how 3 simple exercises performed before your run, walk, or hike can not only eliminate pain, but also prevent injuries and optimize performance. 

One reason you can experience aches and pains while walking, running, or hiking without any apparent injury is because certain muscles such as your hip abductors, hip adductors, hamstrings, and core aren’t doing their job. These muscles are commonly overlooked by most people and the result is that the additional stress and strain from inefficient mechanics over millions of steps can eventually overload your tissues.

One interesting study showed that exercising core muscles before activities such as walking and running can immediately change the stiffness of the muscles, which can improve physical performance and injury resilience. My experience working with athletes who do a lot of running and soldiers who do a lot of rucking with heavy packs on their back has me convinced that the following 3 exercises performed right before a run, walk, or hike can be a game-changer. Check out the show notes for links to YouTube videos where I show you how to perform these exercises

Single-leg tuck

The first exercise is the single-leg tuck. This exercise will engage and strengthen your hip abductor muscles on the outer sides of your hips, which is important for stabilizing your pelvis while on a single leg during walking, running, or hiking. 

Start by laying on your side. Your body should be in a straight line with your legs extended and feet stacked on top of each other. You can rest your head on your bottom arm. Next, lift your top leg up to hip-width distance (about six to eight inches) from your bottom leg. 

Begin exercising by simultaneously flexing the hip and knee of your top leg forward in a tucking motion until they’re at 90 degrees. Take 3 seconds to get to the top of the movement, hold there for 3 seconds, take 3 seconds to return to the starting position, and hold there for 3 seconds while keeping your legs hip-width apart. Work your way up to 30 reps and then repeat on the opposite side. 

Heel bridge with alternating marches

The second exercise is the heel bridge with alternating marches. This exercise will engage and strengthen your hamstring muscles on the back of your thighs, which is important for pulling your stance leg backward to propel your body forward while walking, running, or hiking. 

Start by lying on your back and placing the back of both heels on the seat of a park bench or any stable surface that’s 1 to 2 feet high. Now, tighten your core muscles and dig both heels down into the chair to lift your butt as high as it will go. You should be far enough away from the chair so that when your butt is lifted, your knees are bent about 90 degrees. 

Begin exercising by lifting one leg a few inches off the chair for three seconds while keeping your core tight and butt lifted high. Place your lifted leg back on the chair and repeat the same thing with the opposite leg. Work your way up to 30 repetitions on each side.

Hip adductor squeeze with yoga block

The third exercise is the hip adductor squeeze. This exercise will engage and strengthen your hip adductor muscles on your inner thighs, which also contributes to pulling your stance leg backward to propel your body forward while walking, running, or hiking. This exercise also engages and strengthens your core, which is important for stabilizing your trunk.

Start by lying on your back with your lower back pressed into the floor and your hips and knees bent 90-degrees while firmly squeezing a yoga block, a rolled-up towel, or anything firm that’s 3 to 5 inches thick. 

Begin exercising by slowly straightening and lowering both legs until your knees are straight and your feet are one to two feet above the floor. Pause for a second at the end of the motion, then slowly return your legs to the starting position. Be sure to maintain a firm squeeze on the yoga block or towel throughout this exercise. Work your way up to 30 repetitions.

Notice how each exercise simulates the motion your legs would make while walking, running, or hiking. The difference with each exercise is the muscles that it engages. 

By performing these 3 simple exercises before your next walk, run, or hike, you’ll likely notice better performance and reduced aches and pains. Most people report feeling lighter on their feet and are amazed that they can notice the difference immediately. 

If you have a question that you want me to answer on the show, email me at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or leave me a voicemail at 510-353-3104.

All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Dr. Jonathan Su, DPT, CSCS, TSAC-F, C-IAYT

Dr. Jonathan Su is the host of the Get-Fit Guy podcast. He is a physical therapist and fitness expert whose mission is to make fitness accessible for everyone. Dr. Su is author of the bestsellers Six-Minute Fitness at 60+ and Six-Minute Core Strength.

Got a question for Dr. Su? You can email him at getfitguy@quickanddirtytips.com or leave him a message at the Get-Fit Guy voicemail line at (510) 353-3104.