5 Injury-Preventing Exercises Every Runner Should Know

Strengthen your hips and knees to save yourself from overuse injuries

Of all the potential hazards runners face—uneven terrain, aggressive unleashed dogs and navigating traffic—the biggest hazard to runners is often themselves. You see, running is a very repetitive exercise that tends to cause muscle imbalances in the legs—some muscles work really hard while others are more or less neglected. And the worst of those weaknesses and imbalances lead to some of the most common overuse injuries, like runner's knee and muscle tears.

In order to prevent these injuries, a runner needs to strengthen those muscles that complement their most powerful muscles to root out weak spots and give the overworked muscles a break. Poor posture is also a common cause of injury in runners, particularly in women because of their wider pelvic area and lower center of gravity. Although it's impossible to prevent all running injuries, an injury prevention regimen—particularly one that works the hips and the muscles that support the knees—can help a runner avoid getting hurt.

Matthew Moran, Director of the Exercise Science Program at Sacred Heart University, says that few runners think about preventing injury until it happens. "Runners don’t think about preventative causes," he says. "They don’t think about it before they get injured."

We talked to Moran about some hip- and leg-strengthening exercises that help prevent injuries. Though he acknolwedged that specific exercises depend on the individual runner's strengths and weaknesses, he did offer some exercises that are likely to curb injuries in a typical runner.

Moran said a preventative program should be practiced after a run or on an off day. He recommends that runners start slowly with twice-a-week practices, slowly building up to three sessions a week. If done the same day as a run, the following workout should be on a light day, in order to avoid muscle fatigue.

Moran recommends this hip muscle-strengthening exercise because the hips act as stabilizers for the legs while running.
How to Do It
While lying on your side, slide a resistance band up around both legs until it's a few inches above your knees. Keeping your feet together and your knees slightly bent, slowly lift your top knee away from the bottom one, stretching the band as high as you can. Equally slowly, bring your top knee down to its original position. Repeat for 10 reps, then switch sides.

Side Leg Lifts
This hip-strengthening move uses the legs as a form of weight resistance.
How to Do It
Like the clamshell, you lie on your side, but with your legs straight. Keep both legs straight as you raise your top leg as high as it will go. Bring it back down at the same pace you raised it. Repeat for 15 reps before switching sides.

Single-Leg Glute Bridges
This movement targets the hips, but also strengthens the hamstrings, a back-of-thigh muscle that supports the knee while running.
How to Do It
Lie on your back with your arms flat at your sides, your knees bent and your feet flat on the ground. Slowly raise your left leg, bringing your knee toward your chest until your foot is nearly on top of your right thigh (if possible). At the same time, push through the heel of your planted right foot and raise your hips off the ground until your body forms a plank from your shoulders through your right knee. Repeat for a total of five reps, then switch sides.

Hip Hikes
This is another hip-strengthening move, but it also targets the whole leg by forcing you to balance on one leg while raising the opposite hip.
How to Do It
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Raise the right leg, holding the foot so that it points to the floor. Raise the hip on this side slightly before bringing it back down. Alternately, you can perform the exercise while balanced on a step, as shown in the video below. Repeat 5-10 times before switching to the other side.

Side Steps with Resistance Band
This move works out your thighs, hips and glutes.
How to Do It
Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and a resistance band around your legs, just above the ankles. Keep your posture straight, with your shoulders back. Step one foot as far as possible to the side, then follow it with your other foot, taking care to fight the resistance and slowly bring your feet together. Continue stepping to the same side to start another rep. Perform 10 reps in each direction, as room allows.