By Chris Lauretani, PT, MS, CSCS, CKTP, TGI CGFI

Every runner has encountered injuries while running and most injuries, especially in the dog days of summer marathon training, tend to be lower body overuse injuries. These injuries can last weeks if not months and typically consist of problems like ITB tendonitis, hip bursitis, and a myriad of foot and ankle disorders. One major cause for these overuse injuries can be blamed on poor pelvic and core stability, a problem that affects recreational and elite runners alike.

There are many muscles that play a vital role in running and maybe none more important than the gluteus medius. Its job is to abduct and rotate the leg, however it also functions to dynamically stabilize the pelvis. Weak muscles lead to poor stability while more and more strengthening programs attempt to be too creative, sometimes forgetting the basic, most effective exercises.

So here it is….cue the drum role! The single most important exercise you can do to help stay injury free is the side-lying leg raise. Sounds boring and simple and it is, but there is a reason why this exercise is so important. Recent studies have shown that the side lying leg raise, done without rotating or flexing the hip, allows for much greater gluteus medius activation. Many believe the clamshell or toe in / toe out lateral leg raises are more effective, however EMG muscle testing suggests otherwise. Another important factor about the neutral side-lying leg raise is that this position also limits the activation of another muscle, the TFL or tensor fasciae latae. The TFL when activated sometimes overcompensates and over rotates the hip, especially in people with an increased lower back curvature (anterior pelvic tilt).

Sometimes it is important to take a step back and simplify strength and conditioning programs. Often, trainers and therapists try to spice up a routine and add new exercises so their clients feel like they are on the cutting edge, when in fact; each person needs to be looked at individually. This simple, yet effective exercise should be part of every runner’s training program and can easily be incorporated into an active warm-up prior to workouts.

When To Do This Exercise

  • Strength training routine – 15 reps x 2 sets, hold for 5 sec and do 2-3x per week
  • Pre-workout dynamic warm-up – 20 reps x 1 set, don’t hold and do before each run

Chris Lauretani, PT, MS, CSCS, CKTP is the founder of Symmetry Physical Therapy in Westchester County, New York. As a New York and Connecticut licensed Physical Therapist, Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist and Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner, he serves as a sports medicine consultant to numerous professional organizations and running clubs.