Spring is around the corner, and with warmer temperatures many physicians are eyeing new training regimens. Before you hit the pavement or get on that bike, it’s best to build a good strength base first. Not only does a stronger body help maximize the value of your new program, it also aids in avoiding the start and stop that can lead to injuries. There is a lot of research into the role of injuries caused by overtraining, but the conversation has shifted to using the term training load error to include those injuries that occur with increase in training after a period of inactivity or undertraining. In other words, having a base strength and fitness plan is key before you decide to ramp up your exercise program.
Let’s say, for example, that as the temperate weather season approaches, you want to start running. It is a fairly COVID-friendly exercise: you don’t need a gym, it’s accessible to most, it doesn’t require equipment, and it can be done on one’s own schedule. How do you best prepare for a training program such as this, or any other? Give yourself a head start with a good strengthening prep plan. Here’s how:
Work the core
Having a stable core is a key component of any good strengthening program. Building up the middle section of the body isn’t particularly exciting, but the exercises don’t have to revolve around crunches. You also don’t need special equipment, but do feel free to dust off your ab roller if you have one. Start with a series of basics, like variations of planks, hundreds, leg lowering and side crunches. If you’re more of a class person, you can join live, or prerecorded, virtual core classes through a variety of platforms. Due to the pandemic, many instructors and trainers even offer virtual one-on-one sessions.
Maximize the glutes
Hip stabilization is a key component to injury prevention, as weak hips can lead to problems further down the leg. Common complaints in runners that can be attributed to weak glutes include hip tendinitis, patellofemoral pain (“runner’s knee”), IT band syndrome and shin splints. The key to better building the glutes is multidirectional exercises that are ideally not all performed in double stance. In other words, squats on two legs are good, but single-leg squats can address asymmetries. Working the side glutes (hip abductors like gluteus medius and minimus) is especially important for preventing the knee from dropping in (dynamic valgus). Some exercises that can address this are side-lying leg lifts, clamshells and monster walks.
Strengthen the foot and ankle
Many abovementioned exercises achieve ankle stabilization when balance is involved. Addressing any weakness or instability in the ankles is important in preventing shin splints, ankle tendinitis and certain stress fractures. People often end up utilizing orthotics, which can play an important role when needed, but exercise might just be the most important tool in preventing injury. To better strengthen the sometimes-forgotten distal extremities, band exercises for the ankle and balance- and foot-strengthening exercises, such as forming an arch and towel scrunches, can be valuable. Yoga can be helpful too, as balance is incorporated into many poses.
Like most regimens, the above exercise plans should be reasonable, appealing and fun. Even a great strengthening plan can fall apart if it’s not done consistently. Make it fit into your life and start at the right pace. If you need accountability, create a plan with a friend, block out a time slot on your calendar or schedule sessions with a trainer. However you decide to do it, it’s important that you enjoy the experience.