Over the past 2 weeks our YouTube Channel has focused on demonstrating some key lower limb exercises that you we feel all athletes should be introducing into their weekly programme. Read how you can help prevent injuries by doing some simple but effective exercises.
So the key question is why are we focusing on such small muscles at the bottom of the legs? Firstly the lower limb is having to absorb a massive impact every time it hits the floor when running and it’s doing this with a small base and loads of small ligaments and muscles. When you add this to the amount of times each foot hits the floor in a 1-hour run if those muscles and ligaments aren’t strong over time you are just waiting for a problem to occur. So in the same way you might go to a gym and work on your chest or shoulder muscles the exercises demonstrated will strength key muscles and ligaments of the lower leg.
So what are the key structures we are targeting during these exercises? One of the key muscles most of you will know and will probably of had a problem with in the past is the Gastrocnemius (or calf muscle). This runs up the back of the leg and with the Soleus as the main muscles at the rear of the leg. Simply adding Calf Raises to your programme 2 or 3 times per week, with progression will strength these muscles. Also doing toe walks and the heel to toe walk will help.
At the front of the lower leg we have the Tibialis Anterior, which if you’ve had shin splints this is where they occur. Shin splints is a common term given to problems at the front of the lower leg but is due to weak muscles. Doing the simple heel walks and toes to shins exercises will help strengthen this area.
The other exercises we have shown include lateral border walk and foot intrinsics will help strengthen the smaller muscles and ligaments in the foot and ankle area.
It’s important to do these exercises without shoes on so that the foot does all the work without the ‘softening’ effect you can get when wearing a trainer.
Other things you can do when running to build this area is to run off road. This will generally be an uneven surface and forces the foot to work harder to stabilize the body, this will help strengthen the foot but make sure you build up to this slowly. You can also run in lighter trainers. Again caution should be taken when switching to lighter trainers and it should be a gradual process but lighter trainers allow a more ‘natural’ feel when running and allows the foot to do the work is was designed to do.
So spending 15-20 minutes twice per week doing these very simple exercises, which can be done at home whilst at home watching TV will help you become a better and more consistent runner as it should help ward of those nagging calf and shin injuries we all pick up from time to time.