Okay, let’s get to the point here.
More likely than not, you googled "why am I always injured in my [insert lower body part here]” and this article popped up. Better yet, perhaps you clicked through to this link from Social Media, hoping I had finally cracked the secret to 5-minute pain relief.
Although it’s unlikely you’ll fix your nagging issues or fully prevent them within 5 minutes, you can probably read this whole article in that time!
Here are my Go-To’s for preventing lower body injuries, whether they’re reoccurring or potential.
1) Check Your Ankles
Let’s start here, because that little ankle joint of yours has the capacity to be a HUGE problem!
To make a long, excessively academic and ego-stroking description short, here’s the thing:
…if you are lacking serious degrees of ankle dorsiflexion and you need to develop force using your feet, you’re in to be either disappointed by your lack of force/speed or injured.
Okay, even more simply:
…if you can’t flex your foot (bring your toes toward you) beyond a 90* angle and you try to run or jump, it’s over for you!
During the Mobility Rage of 2014/2015, “ankle mobility” came to be defined as “being able to rotate both of my ankles without cracking them”.
As we are now in the Post-Mobility Era - thank God and my lucky Star(rett) - we are now defining ankle mobility as what it’s always been; usable, functional, relevant flexibility and strength through a complete range of motion. That is: through plantar flexion (extension of the ankle joint), dorsiflexion (flexion of the ankle joint), and rotation.
Humans require ankle dorsiflexion for a number of reasons that we encounter in our daily lives, including (but not limited to) walking, taking stairs, running, sprinting, jumping, and more.
If we lack ankle dorsiflexion, and try to create force (i.e. sprinting) at a rate or direction beyond what our current mobility can handle, we often feel it in our plantar fascia (bottom of the foot), in our shins (hello, shin splints!), in our achilles or knees, and, potentially, even in our backs.
Uhh… is there good news here??
The good news is that ankle mobility is an easy fix; you just have to earn it.
Here is a great exercise that I use with my athletes who need to earn back their dorsiflexion - they usually need to do 2 sets of 15 reps per side every day for a few weeks, and improvements come quickly.
2) Pull More Weight More Often
Pull. Pull. Pull!
Humans spend the majority of their lives pushing; walking, running, taking the steps, climbing into the car, pushing the door open, pressing the gas pedal, and more.
Our most overused movement is the Lower Body Push.
To make physiology and biomechanics easy and, perhaps at the risk of oversimplifying, think about it like this:
…the more we push, the stronger the front of our body gets.
…the stronger the front of our body gets, the more dominant we become there.
…the more dominant we become on the front of our body, the less balanced we are.
And what happens when we don’t have balance? What happens when a muscle or group of muscle (in this case, the entire posterior chain of the body) is weak?
It’s more prone to injury and pain.
How do we avoid becoming front-side dominant?
It doesn’t matter if it’s single-leg or on a machine or in the sweaty form of a deadlift.
Consider how much of your life you spend developing the front side of your body. Get into the gym and PULL more than you push!
Watch your strength and speed increase and your pain, instability, and injury risk decrease.
3) Get Strong Sideways
Sitting vs. Standing vs. Walking.
If you’re an active athlete, think: Lifting vs. Running vs. Sprinting vs. Jumping.
What do all of these things have in common?
We do them every day and very much AND…
Drum roll please!
They’re all done in the sagittal plane… we’re going or facing forward while doing them.
When we don’t train to move laterally, we’re asking for a host of potential issues, ranging from hip capsule or low back pain, unspecific glute pain, knee pain, sciatic nerve issues hip flexor irritation, and more.
How can we clear that up?
Train to move laterally!
The hips have this beautiful, often-neglected muscle called the Gluteus Medius (g.Med), which is responsible for the rotation and abduction of the hips - otherwise said, it helps us move side-to-side, bring our legs together and apart, stay balanced on one leg, and rotate from the hip socket.
However, it needs to be trained. Yes, even the small but powerful g.Med needs its reps put in!
Again, the good news is that glute strength, stability, and power laterally is easily improved with regular training.
Here’s an example of a warm-up exercise for the g.Med that I often assign to my athletes. Give 3 sets of 12/side a try, about 3x a week in your regular warm-ups!
4) Earn Your Hip Internal Rotation
In case you’re feeling like you’re a messed up, complete biomechanical wreck of a human being right now, DON’T!
All of these issues are NORMAL, but that doesn’t mean they are OPTIMAL.
Optimizing you for better performance and less pain is our goal here.
The same story goes for Hip Internal Rotation, lovingly termed Hip IR.
Most people have restricted Hip IR. You probably never noticed it unless you needed to and have a great trainer or physiotherapist.
Sometimes it doesn’t cause problems, but sometimes it’s the bane of people’s existence! It can result in knee, back, and shin pain, as well as unspecific glute tenderness and SI joint irritation.
Again, the great news is that Hip IR is changeable and can be greatly improved just by being aware of it and dedicating 2 minutes a day to working it!
Here is my favourite Hip IR move:
5) Master Your Pelvis
If I can play favourites here, then I can honestly say that I find this specific point the most important in this whole list.
Everyone wants the showy six-pack and nice upper back. What they’re missing is how vital your ability to control your pelvis is to the entire rest of your body!
The body is essentially divided in half at the pelvis. If you can’t control your hips, if they’re tilted under or up and behind you, you’re not moving at your best.
At its worst, a wild pelvis can also bring you some severe hamstring issues, low back pain, and even more things we don’t need to talk about.
As I said before, this is the one place where I see the most number of pain and injuries coming from. It’s the connection point. If your body is disconnected from top to bottom, you’re missing lots of important cues and, like, the ability to work as one unit.
STOP reading this and START gaining back control of your hips.
How do we approach this?
Here’s my favourite exercise to start teaching pelvic control.
The goal here is to complete your entire back (yes, your low back as well) on the ground through the entirety of this movement. Push your breath out as forcefully as you can while lowering your leg. If your back begins to come off the floor, don’t lower your leg so far down until you can control your back through it.
This exercise needs to be done daily, 10 reps per side, but the benefits are unspeakable!