Believe it or not, there are things that you can do throughout the day when you are at work (some of them very simple) to help make you a better runner. The key is to consistently incorporate these each day at work. I recommend scheduling or setting a timer, so that you can take a few minutes every 45-60 minutes to incorporate at least some of these recommendations. In this article with the accompanying video, I will give you five recommendations for things you can do at work to make yourself a better runner.
1.Get Up, Walk, and Hydrate
Many of us have desk jobs and spend many hours day after day sitting at our desk. Research has shown this can be detrimental to our health. It can also be detrimental to your running. One of the reasons is that while we are seated are hip flexors (muscles in the front of our upper leg attached to our hips) are constantly being contracted and as a result oftentimes become shortened. How does this affect your running? Because the hip flexors can become shortened this can limit our hip extension when we run. So, get up and walk and hydrate multiple times during the day.
Why is limited hip extension a problem?
Limited hip extension can cause the runner to have to arch his/her back, which can lead to low back pain. The runner may also rely heavily on the calves, thus increasing the potential for injury to the Achilles tendon. Limited hip extension limits stride length and results in an inefficient release of energy to propel the body forward when running. Thus, limiting the runner’s speed.
Also, while we are seated our glutes are basically on vacation and are getting weaker because of disuse. This is important because the glutes stabilize the pelvis and hips. Without a stable pelvis and hips we will be unstable when we run, wasting energy and being less efficient each time we have one foot on the ground when we run. This instability also sets us up for an increased risk of injury. The glutes, particularly the gluteus maximus is an important muscle for extending the hip. In fact, if properly engaged the gluteus maximus is the strongest muscle used when running.
So, let’s give those hip flexors a break and engage the hip extensors, including the glutes, instead and get up and walk for a few minutes. This walking will not only get the glutes engaged, but help circulate the blood that may be pooling in our lower extremities while we are sitting. You will probably feel a bit more invigorated as a result.
In addition, while you’re taking a two to five minute walk grab some water to keep yourself hydrated. Most people aren’t hydrating enough. At a minimum you should be consuming half your body weight in ounces of water each day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, you should be consuming at least 75 ounces of water every day. As a runner you will need to consume more depending on how much you are running and how much you sweat.
What if you have a job where you are standing and already walking during the day?
Lucky you! This will certainly help you minimize the loss of flexibility and mobility in your hip flexors and hip extensors. However, be sure to stay well-hydrated and I strongly recommend you incorporate the other exercises below.
- Engage the Transverse Abdominus
The transverse abdominus (TVA) is the deepest of the abdominal muscles and is an important postural muscle. The TVA is located between the lower ribs and the top of the pelvis and encircles the body like a corset on a women’s dress. Engaging the TVA is like tightening a corset in that it prevents movement and keeps your upper body stable on the lower body. This also helps keep the spine in its neutral position. So, if you engage the TVA, which most people don’t do, you will have better posture and will better stabilize the spine, pelvis, and hips, which is key when you are running. The TVA is not an easy muscle to engage and so it can take some practice before you feel it engaged. I recommend focusing on engaging the TVA for 10 seconds while breathing normally, multiple times throughout the day. Below I have described two different techniques you can use to engage these muscles. I recommended practicing one of these techniques until you feel you can engage the TVA at any time, especially when your run.
How to engage the TVA
Technique 1 (You may want to try this at home first to get used to being able to engage the TVA):
- Lie on the floor, rest your hands on your stomach with fingertips in the middle and do an abdominal crunch so you can feel what it is like to engage the rectus abdominus (different from TVA), you should feel the fingertips rise
- Now lie flat on your stomach with your hands next to your shoulders with toes on the floor like you are in a standing position
- Imagine an ice cube under your belly button and without moving anything else, pull your belly button away from the ice cube, as you do so your TVA will contract
- Try this a couple of times, until you feel comfortable with engaging the TVA
- Now lie on your back again
- Find your TVA by placing your fingers on your hip bone and then slide your fingers one inch towards the middle of your body and then one inch down
- Rest your thumbs on your belly button
- Again, pretend like you are pulling away from an ice cube
- Perform an abdominal crunch and you should feel your thumbs go down and fingers rise up as the belly flattens out
- Practice engaging the TVA for 10 seconds while breathing normally
- Watch this video to see how to properly perform this technique for engaging the TVA:
Technique 2 (this is one you can do at work):
- Place your fingers on your hips and then slide then towards the midline of your body one inch and then slide them down one inch to locate the TVA
- As your exhale, make a “Ssssss” sound, this will help you feel what it is like when the TVA is engaged, your belly button should be gently drawn back
- As you inhale relax this muscle
- Repeat until you can engage the TVA without make the “Ssssss” sound
- In addition, you want to engage the other muscles that stabilize the pelvis by gently drawing these muscles upwards
- To do this imagine sucking a smoothie with your vagina as the straw, if you are a woman, and if you are a man, Imagine yourself urinating, then imagine stopping yourself mid-flow, also, imagine trying to draw your testicles up, yes this sounds really weird, but it works!
- While you are doing this make sure your shoulders are relaxed, that you are breathing normally, that you are not “sucking in your stomach”, that you are not arching or rounding your back, that your ribs stay back and your chest isn’t pushed out
- Leg Swings
Because the hip flexors are commonly tight in most runners, especially those who spend a significant portion of the day seated, I recommend leg swings to help minimize the loss of flexibility and mobility in the hip flexors and extensors. Perform leg swings multiple times during the day.
How to do forward-to-back leg swings
- Use a stable chair or other immoveable object to perform leg swings
- Stand to the side of the chair or other immoveable object with the hand closest holding on to this object for support
- Place the other hand on the hip to help stabilize the hip and pelvis, engage the TVA
- With the leg that is closest to the immoveable object bend at the knee and swing this leg forward and then swing this leg back gradually increasing the range of motion that you swing back, so that you extend back as far as you can without moving the pelvis and not arching the lower back
- Perform 15-20 repetitions for each leg
Bonus: Side-to-side leg swings
If you have time, I recommend performing side-to-side leg swings as well to help engage the other glute muscles (medius and minimus), which are also commonly weak in runners
- Stand so that you are facing an immoveable object and hold with one or both hands for support
- Lift one foot off the ground and gently swing that leg in front of your body from side-to-side, gradually increasing the range of motion, engage the TVA
- Make sure that the rest of your body stays stable and that the motion is only coming from the outer and inner hip muscles
- Perform 15-20 repetitions for each leg
- Single-Leg Balance
Single leg balance is a great exercise to help you establish balance with one foot one the ground, which occurs often while running. Through single-leg balance your body will better be able to develop the ability to microcorrect its position at various joints to stabilize your body. This is tied in with proprioception, which I mentioned in a previous article. For now I recommend the basic single-leg balance, however there are several variations that you can incorporate to further develop your body’s ability to microcorrect, such as performing single-leg balance with eyes closed. I will go into more variations in a future video.
How to perform single-leg balance:
- While standing with hands on hips and with good posture, weight evenly distributed over the entire foot, and the TVA engaged, lift one foot off the ground and bend the knee so that this foot is in back of your body with approximately a 90 degree angle formed between the upper and lower leg
- Spread your toes out to maximize your base of support and try to push you big toe down, while keeping it straight and not curled
- Imagine a triangle formed between the inside ball of the foot, the end of the big toe, and the outside of the foot kept in solid contact with the ground
- Try to stand with minimal movement for 30 seconds
- Switch legs and repeat
- Perform this exercise multiple times during the day to try to accumulate at least 5-10 minutes for each leg during the day, instead of one 10-minute block
- I recommend performing this exercise with shoes off to get the most benefit
- Glute Squats, aka Chair of Death
Glute squats, also known as chair of death, is a great exercise not only to strengthen the glutes, but it forces you to utilize the glutes, instead of the quadriceps, which most people primarily use when they do squats. This will help you better engage the glutes when you run.
How to perform glute squats:
- Place a chair with its back against the wall or desk so that the chair is stable and won’t move
- Hold a yardstick, broom handle, pipe or wooden dowel (you can get one at Home Depot for about five bucks) so that it touches and will remain in contact with your tailbone, upper back, and middle of your head
- Stand facing the chair so that the front of your knees are touching the chair
- Squat down moving your butt backwards just like you are hovering over a toilet. The yardstick, broom handle, pipe, or wooden dowel should not come off the back of your body as you hinge from the hips, it’s okay to lean the trunk forward as you get used to this exercise
- Perform 10 repetitions at least two to three times throughout the day
- Over time you should be able to squat to parallel (thighs parallel with the ground) and you should be able to keep your torso more upright
Bobby McGee Run Transformation
Jay Dicharry Anatomy for Runners