Keep the muscles along your spine flexible and strong to prevent injuries.
These muscles keep the body erect and help you rotate slightly with each running step, giving your hips and thighs more energy to push you forward. A weak lower back can put extra strain on the hamstrings, which can throw off your stride and cause injuries from the ankle to the hips, says Robert Gotlin, D.O., director of orthopedic and sports rehabilitation at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.
Back extensions: Lie down, press your pelvis into the floor and lift your head, chest, shoulders, and arms. Hold for five seconds, repeat 10 times.
Strong shoulders keep your upper body relaxed, work with the arms to propel you forward, and help you breathe efficiently. “Proper spinal alignment optimizes the function of the lungs and diaphragm,” says Pilates instructor Rebekah Rotstein.
A Planks: Rest on elbows and hold for 20 to 60 seconds, five to 10 times.
B Side Planks: Balance on forearm, hold 20 to 60 seconds, five times each side.
The hips help drive us forward and stabilize our landing while preventing excess side-to-side motion that could strain the back and cause leg injuries.
A Leg lifts: Lift your top leg up, lower, repeat 12 to 15 times each leg.
B Kneeling hip-flexor stretch: Lunge, keep upper body straight, front knee behind toes, and push hips forward. Hold 30 seconds each side.
Midrun tension relief
“A strong neck supports the head and offsets the potential overload and strain to the shoulders and entire chain down the body,” says Pilates instructor Rotstein, who helps rehab athletes in New York City. How you hold your head affects your posture, which determines how efficiently you run. Allowing your chin to jut out when you run, a common mistake, can strain your neck, throwing off your body’s alignment and causing stiffness and soreness with each mile. Keep your gaze straight ahead, looking slightly down from time to time to watch for obstacles. To release tension, shrug your shoulders and shake out your arms. Stop to lower your left ear toward your left shoulder; repeat on your right side.