Target Muscle/s: Hips & Legs
Sets & Reps: 10 reps for each version
Tempo: Start slow, build up
Frequency: As part of every warm up
Although for some runners manage to stay injury free with nothing more than a slow first mile as a warm up, research agrees that for the majority of runners a period of time spent performing large range dynamic movements and sport-specific activity can help reduce risk of injury and enhance performance. This is particularly true for individuals new to running whose bodies are still getting used to the associated demands, and also for runners returning from injury whose bodies need a little extra preparation before launching into running, which after all we should remember involves hopping from one leg to the other approximately 1600 to 2000 times a mile depending how fast you are running.
Leg Swings provide an easy, effective way to help prepare the body and brain for the neuromuscular demands of running. The warm up is not just about getting the body warm; it’s also about preparing the nervous system for the task at hand, and in the case of returning from injury reduce the associated threats which are still stored deep in the brain. By balancing on one leg and swinging the arms in running fashion, the ‘rehearsal’ is similar enough to the actual act of running to stimulate the nervous system, without suddenly subjecting the body to the impact forces of even a slow jog. This can often prove key in reducing your system’s protective guards and enjoying a pain free run.
- Straight Leg Swings
Whilst balancing on one leg, start gently swinging the other leg backwards & forwards whilst keeping it straight. The arms counterbalance the legs by moving in opposition, i.e. left arm with right leg (the same as if you were running). Don’t worry if you find the coordination of arms and legs challenging – this is all part of preparing the nervous system for the demands of running. Make sure the drive is on the backward part of the swing, just as it is when running. As you get warmer, increase the size of the swings. Aim for 10-20 repetitions then swap legs.
- Bent Leg Swings
These are performed the same as the straight leg swings, but with a bent leg & arms, as if you were running. Remember to start gently and then gradually build into larger, more forceful swings on the drive back (not forwards). Again, aim for 10-20 swings then swap legs.
- Side Leg Swings
Although running does not involve swinging the leg to the side, side leg swings can be a great way of stimulating the muscles on the side of the hips to stabilise your pelvis as they do when you run. To counterbalance, try moving both arms to the opposite side of the swinging leg. The coordination demands of this exercise can be challenging so as always start gently and gradually build height. Aim for 10-20 swings then swap legs.
• Make sure the knee of the supporting leg remains slightly bent. Locking it out puts more strain on the knee ligaments rather than the hamstrings.
• Avoid clenching your toes, especially if you are doing the exercise barefoot. Stability needs to come from the hips not the muscles of the foot or lower leg, so try and keep the feet relaxed.
Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex. Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt