I started running when I joined my junior high track team way back in the spring of 1995. Within a year, I developed knee pain that was so severe I had to stick to soft surfaces and couldn’t run two days in a row. My doctor diagnosed me with mild pronation and recommended I start running in stability shoes, so I wore the Nike Air Structure Triax or the Asics 2000/2100 series for years, which did help. Later I was even fitted with orthotics, but my knees were still tight and achy, especially after a long run or a hard workout.
Walking down the stairs in a movie theater after sitting for a couple of hours was torturous. Sometimes my knees were so bad that straightening my leg in bed was painful. I even wondered if anyone could go up and down stairs without pain. I was so far removed from reality!
Finally, after hearing only 10-20 times that I should work on strengthening my glutes, I decided to give it a try. Specifically, when I introduced side plank leg lifts into my routine, my knee pain went totally away. (I was also doing some body squats and lunges, but the side plank leg lift was the real kicker.) I’ve now ditched my orthotics, wear lightweight neutral running shoes and racing flats, and I can hammer a hilly long run and come home with a tired butt rather than screaming knees.
Side plank leg lifts are so effective for me because it not only exercises and strengthens the core, but it targets the gluteus medius. Rather than my knees trying to stabilize my every running stride, now I have a stronger core and gluteus muscles to stabilize the running motion.
To do side plank leg lifts, first, hold a good tight side plank. Once you have tightened your pelvic floor and can feel your core engage, slowly lift and lower your top leg. Here’s a video from the Stone Clinic demonstrating the side plank leg lift.
My PT recommended I work up to two sets of 15 reps on each side, which is the formula that has worked for me. I usually take a break between sets and switch my starting side between sets. I stay healthiest if I do them almost every day along with a few other glute strengthening exercises. When I get lax, little aches start popping up again.
A word of caution: side plank leg lifts are hard. Work into them slowly. The first time my PT recommended side plank leg lifts, I hurt my shoulder because I did too much too soon and didn’t maintain proper form.
So what was the real reason I was having all that knee pain for 18 years? I had a weak butt. Since I’ve strengthened it, I have been running so much healthier, which feels amazing!
What is your favorite strength exercise that makes you a healthier runner?
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