Sunday, February 15, 2009

Training for Runners for Improved Performance & Injury Prevention- Part 2 - Self Assessment

The first thing you SHOULD do if you are going to train the RIGHT way towards your race is to perform a individual body assessment. This assessment is a way to try and determine if muscle imbalances are present within you body. Trust me those imbalances are there. Some are hidden deep within your body, some are more apparent. These imbalances may not be noticeable now but during your training those mild imbalances might pop up at any time and bite you right in the ass (sorry to be harsh, but that is what it feels like).

When I perform the Functional Movement Screen (FMS) it consists of seven total tests and usually takes me a total of 20-30 minutes to be able to determine what muscular imbalances exist and the best way to tackle them. EVERY runner should have a FMS performed once per year. This is the type of screen they run at Athletes Performance Institute for all of their athletes and many pro & college teams take all of their athletes through the screen at least once per year. (To learn more about it and to find FMS certified specialists in your area, check out

I am going to explain to you an assessment you can perform on yourself to give you some idea of what muscle imbalances you might be dealing with.


Stand in front of a mirror and place one foot straight ahead and pick the other leg up so you are flexing your hip, knee and ankle joint to a 90 degree angle.

Hold that pose for 60 seconds, then perform the exercise on the other side.

Note if you are having trouble anywhere. Can you hold the 90/90/90 position for the whole time without losing your balance? 

Were you able to hold the position with your waist line level and the hip, knee, and foot all in a straight line?

Most people have some problems arise in this position. 1-they cannot keep their balance, 2- their foot rotates outward towards their body, or 3- they cannot keep their thigh parallel to the floor.

How did you grade on one side compared to the other? Was one side fairly easy but the other side was completely difficult? If the answer is yes, then I am afraid you have a significant muscle imbalance present within your body. This imbalance needs to be cleared up before you start getting into heavy mileage.

Again in front of a mirror or better yet have someone video record you performing a stationary lunge. Keep both feet pointing straight ahead and take a large step out in front. Now in that position with good posture, drop the back knee to the floor and touch lightly and come back up. Perform about 6 reps each side if you can.

How did you do? Did you have trouble keeping your balance? Did either of your knees move in or out to help stabilize you? Did either of your feet turn outward in an attempt to provide you with more stability? This will be what happens when you are running, especially when you get tired or "hit your wall".


lay down on your back in a doorway. Have the doorway line up directly middle the distance of your thigh muscle. Both toes pointing towards the ceiling.

Now place a rolled up towel underneath your knee joint on one leg

The leg that has the towel placed underneath your knee you are going to try and keep your foot, knee and hip all in a straight line and pressure onto the towel roll. With the other leg you are going to lift it as high as you can without bending your knee or losing a straight line with your foot, hip and knee

Were you able to get your heel on the up leg past the doorway without having to cheat on either leg? No? Then were you able to get your heel past your knee joint of the down leg?

How was one side compared to the other?

Next stand up and try and touch your toes without bending your knees. Was it easy or hard? Were you able to perform it?

Which one of these tests did you do the absolutely worst at? Better yet, was there one side that you rocked on and the other side was terrible? Then that is the movement you need to improve to make you a better/less injury prone runner.

Why are these movement important to running? Let me tell you.

SINGLE LEG STANCE-this movement mimics a runners actual running gait. The exercise helps to test stabilization on one leg while it is in a weight bearing position (closed chain), while the other leg is stabilizing in a non-weightbearing position. If you had trouble balancing on the down leg or have trouble keeping the up leg in proper alignment then the test is telling you that you will not be running with optimal technique and are subject to problems developing due to this imbalance. Now think about how many times you run... If each time you step you perform it wrong think how that adds up. Think of it this way. What would happen if you hit 10,000 golf shots incorrectly one right after the other? This is the same thing only with running.

LUNGE-the importance of the lunge is that your body is trying to use its stabilizers during the movement but now the exercise is more dynamic than the single leg stance assessment. Now your body also has to resist a rotational force put upon your body. This helps to tell if your muscles can dynamically stabilize while you are moving

STRAIGHT LEG RAISE- Many of you probably think that this is a test of how flexible your hamstrings are. It is to an extent. Actually your hamstrings don't usually get "tight" they just get overused alot. This is a great test to see how one leg can stabilize while the other is moving dynamically and stabilizing as well. Yes the hamstring needs to work correctly and be able to lengthen. But sometimes the hamstring is not the one to be blamed, at times it is a tight hip flexor on the opposite side.  This is why I have you try and touch your toes after performing the test.  If you were able to do so with not too much trouble then it is not the hamstring to blame.

If you are not all too sure which movement/assessment was the worst then start with the straight leg raise and move your way to the single leg stance and finally the lunge. Feel free to video record yourself and send it to me. Probably the best way to do this is sign up for a youtube account and upload the video and then send me the link to it.

Need more?  Feel free to contact me at and ask about the Injury Prevention & Human Performance Program (IPHP).   There are also package options available that can either include a FMS screen and 30 minute corrective exercise session or you can also get 60 minute workout sessions as well. 

Not close enough to be screened?  You can again check the FMS directory at  Other resouces include: the Atheltic Body in Balance by Gray Cook which includes a more specific self screen procedure (5 movements) or Core Performance for Endurance Athletes by Mark Verstegen

The active straight leg raise and lunge were taken from the Functional Movement Screen developed by Gray Cook and Lee Burton.  The Single Leg Stance test was taken from the Core Performance for Endurance Athletes by Mark Verstegen.

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