by Mike Herrera, DPT and Devin Blessing, DPT, OCS
Here is a series of exercises that test essential skills for the runner. We believe this checklist is necessary to improve performance and efficiency, while decreasing the risk of injury and inefficient compensations.
Toe Yoga Test
Toe Yoga is a great drill to improve your foot intrinsic activation to aid in your foot stability and control. When you're standing on a single leg, your body weight is distributed across your foot as the foundation up the kinetic chain. With the increased use of our foot intrinsics, we will provide support for our ankle stabilizers, decrease loading on the plantar fascia and calf. This also provides you with the ability to control yourself when the foot hits the ground.
The goal here is to extend your big toe, while keeping your other toes stable. As you return to the starting position, you will then lift your remaining four toes, while keeping your big toe placed on the floor. Repeat back and forth.
Knee to Wall Test
Ankle dorsiflexion is essential in the running and walking gait. Without enough dorsiflexion, one becomes unable to fully reap the benefits of the kinetic energy created in the gait cycle. With improved dorsiflexion, you can become more efficient and increase the fascial stretch/kinetic energy to allow improved distribution of forces demanded by running.
To perform this test, put your foot up against a wall, lunge forward to see if your knee can contact the wall before your heel comes off the ground. It’s important to make sure your knee tracks straight over the center of your foot and is not collapsing your foot inwards.
Lateral Step Down Test
The Lateral Step Down Test is a good screen of ankle mobility, hip stability and ability to load your knee and patellofemoral joint. It's important to pay attention to technique here. Try to keep your hips level and your knee in line with your 2nd toe. Lower down and gently tap your heel to the ground before returning to the start position. Make sure your trunk stays vertical and you're dropping the pelvis straight down. Tendency to shift the hips backwards is a strategy to avoid loading the knee. Perform 5 repetitions and grade yourself with the criteria below.
Score of 0 or 1 = good
Score of 2 or 3 = average
Score of 4 or higher = poor
Side Plank with Hip Abduction Test
The Side Plank with Hip Abduction Test is a great way to assess your ability to withstand load on your lateral hip muscles, particularly your gluteus medius. Weakness in the gluteus medius is frequently implicated as a cause of knee and foot/ankle injuries. Your goal is to be able to hold this position for 30 seconds on each side.
Single Leg Heel Raise Test
The highest forces in your body occur below the knee when running with 6.5-8x body weight forces at the soleus and 2.5-3x body weight forces at the gastroc, which makes the Single Leg Heel Raise Test extremely important for both performance and injury considerations. To perform this test properly you should maintain a slow, steady motion of your heel raise without any bouncing. You should be able to perform the number of repetitions based on your age and sex in the chart below.
Single Leg Bridge Test
The Single Leg Bridge Test is a quick screen of glute strength and stability. The goal is to keep a level pelvis without any dipping of your hips. You should be able to hold this for 30 seconds on each leg while maintaining a level pelvis and without any cramping of your hamstrings or pain in your lower back.
If you're struggling with any of these tests or dealing with pain while running, schedule an appointment with one of our doctors of physical therapy that specialize in treating runners to help keep you logging miles week after week!