Best Injury-Preventing Exercises

Best Injury-Preventing Exercises

As anyone whose hobby involves physical activity knows| you can’t expect your body to operate in tip-top shape without a little coaxing. Only running or cycling| for example| makes you more prone to painful injuries that can leave you nursing your condition on the couch instead of out there doing what you love. We’ve rounded up the best stretches and exercises to help you prehab before catastrophe happens. Pick a few from each common injury group to help stay out of the doctor’s office and happily in the gym or on the road.

[Weak Ankles][Knee Pain] [IT Band Syndrome] [Tight Hamstrings] [Lower-Back Pain] [Shin Splints] [Plantar Fasciitis]

u2014 Additional reporting by Lizzie Fuhr and Jenny Sugar

Source: Shutterstock / Warren Goldswain

| Weak Ankles: Plantar Flexion With Resistance Band

Adding the resistance band helps to strengthen the muscles of the arch. And a strong arch helps prevent over pronation (excessive rolling inward of the ankle).

  • Sit on the floor with your right leg extended. Wrap one end of a resistance band around the ball of your right foot| and hold the other end in your hands. Keep toes flexed up.
  • Slowly press your foot forward pointing it as you maintain the band’s resistance| then return to the starting position.
  • Do 20 reps| then repeat on left side.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Weak Ankles: Dorsi Flexion With Resistance Band

Dorsi flexion| pulling the toes toward your body| works the muscles that support the front of the ankle.

  • Get a resistance band| and sit on the floor a couple of feet in front of a fixed object (like a heavy table leg). Attach one end of the resistance band to the fixed object| then loop it over your right toes.
  • Start with your foot angled with toes pointing forward| then slowly pull your foot back toward your knee.
  • Do 20 reps| then repeat on left side.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Weak Ankles: Lateral Hops

This is an essential move for runners to strengthen the lower body. Hopping side to side helps condition the muscles around the ankle for stability when making quick lateral direction changes found in tennis| basketball| and soccer.

  • With your right foot slightly off the ground| balance on your left foot.
  • Hop back and forth over an imaginary line laterally for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat the same motion| balancing on your right foot.
  • Rest 30 seconds| and repeat the exercise three times.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Knee Pain: Deadlifts

“”Your core isn’t just your abs!”” says Sports Club/LA trainer Eric Chen. “”Deadlifts are great exercises to strengthen that posterior chain. If you’re an endurance runner| you need a strong core to support yourself.””

  • Stand upright holding a pair of medium-weight dumbbells in each hand| arms at your sides| with your knees slightly bent.
  • Keeping your arms straight and knees slightly bent| slowly bend at the hips (not your waist)| and lower the weights as far as possible without rounding your back| which should remain straight.
  • Now squeeze your glutes to slowly pull yourself up (don’t use your back).
  • Do three sets of 12 reps.

Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Knee Pain: Side Lunge to Curtsy

Strengthen those glute muscles and become a more powerful runner.

  • Holding a five- to 10-pound weight in your left hand| side lunge to the right| bringing your left hand to your right foot. Lower your booty as much as possible. Keep your toes pointed forward and your right knee bent to no more than 90 degrees.
  • Push off gently with your right foot| and come into a curtsy position with your right leg crossing behind your left as you press your weight overhead. Keep your hips square and your curtsy tight. Both feet should be pointed forward. This completes one rep.
  • Repeat by stepping immediately into a side lunge from the curtsy.
  • Once you have completed 15 reps| switch sides. Do three sets total.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Knee Pain: Side-Lying Leg Lifts

This exercise really targets your gluteus medius| a key stabilizing muscle that is often neglected.

  • Start on your side with your legs extended| flexing both feet. Place your top hand on the ground in front of your abs and your supporting arm under your head. Make sure your bottom leg stays extended for the whole duration of the series.
  • Keeping the energy reaching out through your flexed heels| lift your top leg up about six to eight inches from the floor. From here| make tiny pulses upward 20 times. Holding your leg at the highest point of your lift| draw one-inch circles with your heel for 20 reps.
  • Keeping your top leg lifted| bend and straighten your knee. Do this 20 times while not letting your thigh lower as you press through the heel to lengthen your top leg to the straightened position. For an even greater burn| finish this series with lifts in a bigger range of motion| taking the foot all the way toward the ceiling and back down| 10-20 times.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Knee Pain: Donkey Kicks

During this exercise| keep your back straight and in neutral alignment| and pay special attention that you don’t arch your back. Use your muscles to create a slow| controlled movement u2014 do not swing your legs.

  • Start on all fours with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips.
  • Keep your right knee at a 90-degree angle as you slowly raise your leg behind you until your thigh is almost parallel to the floor. Pulse your flexed foot toward the ceiling by squeezing your glutes. Your back should remain perfectly still in a neutral spine. The motion should be small and controlled with the muscle| not momentum| doing the work.
  • Return to start position to complete one rep. Do 20 on each side| two to three times.

You can also add fire hydrants to the mix as well for more hip flexor rotation. Instead of lifting your leg back| lift it to the side| so your thighs are parallel to the floor and the soles of your feet are facing the wall behind you.

Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Knee Pain: Overhead Reverse Lunge

This move opens up the chest while stretching posterior muscles and hip flexors.

  • To begin| hold a barbell or two dumbbells in each hand with palms facing forward (or toward each other| if you are using dumbbells). Raise up your weights| so your arms are straight and the bar or weights are over your head.
  • Take a controlled lunge (or large step) backward with your left foot.
  • Lower your hips so that your right thigh (front leg) becomes parallel to the floor and your right knee is positioned directly over your ankle. Keep your left knee bent at a 90-degree angle and pointing toward the floor. Your left heel should be lifted.
  • When your left knee is almost touching the floor| hold. Then| slowly push with your left foot to raise your pelvis up a bit| and then straighten your knees and return your left leg back to starting position next to your right leg.
  • This completes one rep. Complete 10 reps before repeating the movement and the repetitions on your right side.

Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Knee Pain: Quad Sweep

Balance out overworked hamstrings with this quad-strengthening move| which helps realign and balance your body to prevent knee issues.

  • Sit with your legs extended in front of you. Bend your right knee and clasp your shin with both hands.
  • Flex your left foot| and lift it a few inches above the ground. Sweep it away from your body to the left (as shown above). Hold here for three seconds. Then return your leg back to center| and hold for another three seconds. This counts as one rep.
  • Keep your deep abs engaged by pulling your navel to your spine| complete three sets of 12 to 15 reps with each leg.

| Knee Pain: Wall Squats

This deceptively simple exercise is a must for runners| since it helps build quad strength to prevent injuries like runner’s knee.

  • Stand with your back against a wall| placing your feet about two feet out in front of you. Feet should be hip-distance apart.
  • Bending your knees| slide your back down the wall until your knees are at 90-degree angles. Your knee joints should be over your ankle joints| so you may need to inch your feet further from the wall to create proper alignment. Your thighs should remain parallel.
  • Hold for 30 to 60 seconds| and then stand up. Repeat for a total of three reps.
  • To make this move more challenging| alternate between lifting your left heel for a few seconds and then your right. This helps to target your calves.

Source: Corbis Images and Megan Wolfe Photography

| Knee Pain: Quad Roll

Keep quads loose and strains at bay with this foam-rolling technique.

  • Resting on your stomach| place the roller under the front of your thighs| lifting yourself into a basic plank position on your elbows.
  • Pull with your arms to roll up and down the length of the quad. Do not roll over your knee joint.
  • Continue this movement for 30 to 60 seconds.

| Knee Pain: Glute Roll

Tight glutes can pull on the IT band and adversely affect the alignment of the hips and knees.

  • Lying on the floor| lift your legs and place the roller at the back of your pelvis (aka sacrum).
  • Gripping the end of the roller for stability| slowly twist your lower body to the left| then to the right| to massage your glutes. Continue for 30 to 60 seconds.
  • Adjust your body’s position until you find the “”sweet spot”” or tight spot. Direct pressure will help to release knots.

| IT Band: Cross-Legged Stretch

The IT band is thick band of tissue that connects your hip flexors to your knee joint. When tight| it can pull on your joints| leading to a painful knee injury. This IT band-loosening stretch is great to do after a run.

  • Bend in half at the waist and hang over| crossing your left foot behind your right and pressing your left big toe down into the floor.
  • Twist your upper body to the left and hold on to your right leg. You should feel a gentle pull on the outside of your right leg. Hold the stretch for a minute.
  • Uncross your legs| and switch legs to stretch the other side.

| IT Band: Wall Stretch

You’ll feel this stretch in your upper thighs as well as your calves.

  • Stand a little less than arm’s distance from the wall.
  • Step your left leg forward and your right leg back| keeping your feet parallel.
  • Bend your left knee and press through your right heel.
  • Hold for 20 to 30 seconds| and switch legs.

| IT Band: Single-Leg Balance Touch

This exercise really works the deep glutes while challenging your core and sense of balance. Weak glutes can lead to imbalances that cause IT band flare-ups.

  • Begin standing with arms overhead with all your weight on your left foot.
  • Keeping your spine long| reach forward| bending your left knee and pointing your right leg back| touching both hands to the ground. Keep your abs engaged to keep your torso stable.
  • Lower your right leg down while lifting your torso| bringing your arms overhead to complete one rep.
  • Do 15 reps on each side.

| IT Band: Standing Stretch

Here’s another IT band-loosening stretch that is great to do after a run.

  • Stand with legs together and back straight| arms at your side. Step your right leg behind your left leg| making sure both feet point forward. Put your arms on your hips.
  • Slowly push your hips toward the right| so you are making a “”C”” curve with your left side. You can raise your right arm overhead and to the left.
  • Hold for 15 to 30 seconds| feeling the stretch in your right thigh. Switch sides.

| IT Band: Clam

The clam targets the glute meds and helps build hip control. See the clam in action here.

  • Start by lying on your left side. Bring your knees and hips to a 45-degree angle bend. Position your top pelvis away from your head to bring your waist off the floor. Maintain this neutral position throughout the entire exercise.
  • Lift your top knee up| keeping your heels together. Lower back to starting position| ensuring that you’re not moving your pelvis or torso.
  • Repeat for 30 seconds to one minute| then switch sides.

| IT Band: Squat Walks With Resistance Band

Squat walks are an excellent way to strengthen your glute meds.

  • Tie a resistance band around your ankles. Start with a lighter band (red/medium) and work your way up to a heavier band (green/advanced).
  • Begin standing with feet directly underneath your hips| abs and glutes engaged| and hands on your hips.
  • Squat halfway down| and sidestep to the right as far as you can manage without splaying the knees inward. Bring the left leg toward the right with enough space to keep some resistance in the band. Concentrate on keeping your pelvis straight and sturdy and avoid rocking your body and pelvis as you walk.
  • Step to the right 10 times| then reverse| stepping to the left 10 times. Repeat for three sets.
  • Then complete squat walks| stepping forward 10 times (squat halfway down and step forward as far as you can while maintaining proper form)| then reversing| stepping backward 10 times. Concentrate on keeping your feet at shoulder distance. Remember to remain steady as you walk| avoiding any major rocking motions with your body| especially the pelvis. Repeat for three sets.

| IT Band: Bulgarian Split Lunge

This is a great move for your glutes| while also working your quads| hamstrings| and calves.

  • Stand in front of the bench| facing away from it. Put your right foot behind you on the bench as shown. Step your left foot out in front of you.
  • Bend down to make a 90-degree angle with your left knee| ensuring that it doesn’t pass your ankles as you lower down. Keep your torso straight and engage your core.
  • Lift back up to the starting position. Repeat five to 10 times for each leg.

| IT Band: Single-Leg Bridge Lift

Modifying the classic bridge into a single-leg move helps strengthen hips as well as glute muscles.

  • Lie on your back| and place your hands on the floor for stability as you bend one leg and lift the other leg off the ground.
  • Then| pressing your heel into the floor| lift your pelvis up| keeping your body in a stiff bridge position.
  • Slowly lower your body to the floor and repeat. Switch legs to complete one rep.

| IT Band: Side Lunge

This lunge variation is another exercise that targets the glute meds.

  • Holding a pair of dumbbells| stand with your feet and knees together.
  • Take a large step with your right foot to the right side| lunging toward the floor.
  • Make sure your right knee does not extend past your toes| and keep your left leg relatively straight.
  • Push off through your right foot| emphasizing the weight in the heel| to return to the start to complete one.
  • Do three sets of 12 to 15 on each side.

| IT Band: Foam Roll

The IT band is a thick strand of fascia that runs the length of the thigh; when it gets tight| it can pull the knee out of alignment| causing pain and inflammation in the joint.

  • Lying on your side| similar to a side plank position| place the roller on the outside of your thigh just below your hip.
  • Place your top arm on your hip| and using your top leg for stability| roll the length of your thigh| stopping just above the knee. Go slowly| and do not roll over the knee joint. Keep your bottom leg lifted| or lower it down to the floor if you can. Chances are high that this move will be painful| which is a sign that you really need to do this.
  • If you find an especially tender point| try rolling forward and back to release this spot.
  • Roll for 30-60 seconds| then switch sides.

| Tight Hamstring: Tipover Tuck Hamstring Stretch

Tight hamstrings can lead to strains and pulls| so stay flexible with these post-workout stretches. This stretch is good for your hamstrings and also loosens tight shoulders.

  • Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Interlace your hands behind your back. Keeping your legs straight| bend at the hips| tucking your chin| and bringing your hands over your head.
  • Relax the back of your neck| and if the stretch is too intense| release your hands| placing them on the backs of your thighs| and soften your knees. Hold for 30 seconds| and slowly roll up to standing.

| Tight Hamstring: Scissor Hamstring Stretch

Easy to do anywhere and safe for injured backs| this hamstring stretch is great if you’re really tight.

  • Stand with your feet together. Step your right foot back about two feet and bend forward from your hip joint| keeping your back and both legs straight. After holding for 30 seconds| switch sides.

| Tight Hamstring: Advanced Standing Hamstring Stretch

If the previous stretch isn’t deep enough for you then try this variation. It’s perfect for doing on a bench after a run in the park.

  • Prop your left heel up on a surface that is a little lower than your hip| such as a chair or bench. Flex your foot.
  • To increase the stretch| bend forward toward your flexed foot by creasing at your hips. Hold for 30 seconds| and switch legs.

| Tight Hamstring: Modified Hurdler Stretch

This basic stretch is perfect for targeting one leg at a time and is great for those with really tight hamstrings.

  • Sit on the floor| and straighten your left leg in front of you. Bend the right knee| placing the sole of your right foot against your left inner thigh.
  • Fold over your left leg| keeping your back straight. Hold for 30 seconds| then switch legs.

| Tight Hamstring: Forward Bend With Rounded Back

This stretch targets both hamstrings as well as the lower back.

  • Sit on the floor| extending both legs straight out in front of you| legs together.
  • Fold your torso over your thighs| gently rounding the back but keeping the legs straight. Hold here for 30 seconds| and then sit up.

| Tight Hamstring: Reclined Hamstring Stretch

Here’s a relaxing way to stretch one hamstring at a time.

  • Lie on your back. Raise your left leg as high as you can keeping your pelvis flat on the ground. Hold your lower thigh| and encourage the leg to move toward your head. Flex your foot to stretch your calf| too.
  • To deepen the stretch| place a yoga strap or towel on the ball of your foot and use your hands to pull the strap toward you. After 30 seconds| switch legs.

| Lower-Back Pain: Pigeon

These stretches help ease lower-back pain| a common ailment in runners and cyclists. Bonus: they also help open up your hip flexors| which will help keep your body balanced (and prevent common injuries like IT Band Syndrome) while you exercise.

The pigeon is a great postrun pose for opening up hips and stretching your lower back.

  • Sit with your right knee bent and your left leg extended straight behind you. If your hips are flexible| inch your right foot away from you. Make sure your left hip is always pointing down toward the mat. If it begins to open up toward the ceiling| draw your right foot back in toward your body.
  • Rest your hands on your hips or walk your hands out in front of you| allowing your torso to rest over your right knee.
  • Hold here for five breaths| and then repeat Pigeon on the left side.

Source: Jenny Sugar

| Lower-Back Pain: Double Pigeon

Further your back stretch with the Double Pigeon Pose.

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your left knee| and place your knee| shin| and foot on the floor so they’re parallel with your pelvis. Bend your right knee and place it on top so your knees| shins| and ankles are stacked. You’ll know you’re doing it right when you gaze down and see that your legs make a little triangle.
  • To make this pose more intense| place your hands in front of your shins and walk them out as far as you can| folding your chest toward your legs.
  • Stay here for five breaths| slowly release| and then switch legs so your left knee is on top.

Source: Jenny Sugar

| Lower-Back Pain: Happy Baby

Hips and lower back get a rest with this restorative pose.

  • Begin lying flat on your back. Bend both knees| and hold onto the outside edges of your flexed feet with your hands. Keep your arms on the outsides of your legs.
  • Gently use your upper-body strength to equally press both knees to the floor below your armpits. Try not to tense your shoulders or chest| but keep everything relaxed.
  • Stay like this for five deep breaths.

Source: Jenny Sugar

| Lower-Back Pain: Butterfly

Open up tight hips with this stretch.

  • Sit on the floor| bend both knees| and bring your feet together. Using your hands| open your feet up like a book| pressing your knees toward the floor with your elbows. If you want more of a stretch| extend your arms out in front of you.
  • Stay here for five breaths.

Source: Jenny Sugar

| Lower-Back Pain: Back Roll

Keeping your lower back loose and limber directly affects the flexibility of your glutes and the efficiency of your training.

  • Sitting on the ground| lift your pelvis off the floor to place the foam roller directly in the small of your lower back.
  • Using your right hand for stability| roll up and down the length of your lower back for 30 to 60 seconds. Do be mindful of your spine.
  • Slightly tilt from side to side to reach the entire area.

| Shin Splints: Calf Raises u2014 Basic

Raising the heels destabilizes your ankle joints. Not only are you strengthening your calves with this exercise| but you’re also challenging the muscles that support the ankle joint.

  • Position your feet hip-distance apart.
  • Slowly raise your heels until you’re on your tiptoes| then slowly lower back down to the ground. Take three slow counts to raise and lower your heels.
  • Do 20 reps.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Shin Splints: Calf Raises u2014 External Rotation

Changing the angle of the feet by rotating the legs outward challenges different muscles of the lower leg than working in parallel. This position will work your arch of your foot more| too| and a strong arch helps prevent the ankle from rolling inward.

  • Position your feet hip-distance apart| then externally rotate your thighs to turn your toes outward at about a 45-degree angle.
  • Slowly raise your heels until you’re on your tiptoes| then lower back down to the ground. Take three slow counts to raise and lower your heels.
  • Do 20 reps.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Shin Splints: Calf Raises u2014 Internal Rotation

Once again| the different foot position will challenge different parts of the lower leg and feet.

  • Position your feet hip-distance apart| then by rotating at your hip joints| turn your toes inward so they are almost touching.
  • Slowly raise your heels until you’re on your tiptoes| then lower back down to the ground. Take three slow counts to raise and lower your heels.
  • Do 20 reps.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Shin Splints: Leg Raises

Shin splints are painful u2014 and preventable. Here’s Reclining Hero in between each set.

Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Shin Splints: Calves Roll

Pay special attention to tight spots| allowing the tension to sink into the roller.

  • Sit on the floor with your left ankle crossed over your right| and place the roller under your right calf.
  • Lift your pelvis off the ground so your weight is supported by your hands and the roller.
  • Roll the length of your calf| from the back of your knee to the Achilles tendon. Do roll the inside and the outside of the muscle as well.
  • Repeat for 30 to 60 seconds| then switch legs.

| Shin Splints: Shin Roll

This move is a key to preventing shin splints.

  • Starting on all fours| place the roller directly on your shins.
  • Keeping your hands grounded| roll your knees toward your hands| stopping the roller right above the ankles. A slight twist will allow you to reach the entire muscle.
  • Roll for 30 to 60 seconds.

| Plantar Fasciitis: Heel Walks

This weight-bearing exercise works the muscles that support the front of the ankle and strengthens the feet| too. You can do heel walks with or without shoes.

  • Lift both your feet so you are on your heels as you walk. Keep toes pointed forward but off the ground.
  • Take 20 small steps as you walk forward| then turn around and walk back.
Source: POPSUGAR Studios

| Plantar Fasciitis: Flex and Stretch

Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition caused by tiny tears in the band of tissue on the soles of your feet. Prevent it from happening with this easy stretch you can do at your desk.

  • Sit down on a chair or bench. Bend your left leg| and place your left ankle on your right knee.
  • Hold onto your left toes with your left hand| and gently press your left toes to the right| so your foot is in a pointing position. Stay here for a few seconds.

Photo: POPSUGAR Studios
  • Then use your hand to pull your left toes to the left| flexing your foot.
  • Repeat this stretch 10 times| and then do it with the other foot. Complete this stretch at least three times a day to experience the full benefits.