The ONE Thing You Need to Know in Running
Title: Preventing Running Injuries – One Thing You Need to Knowk
I’m asked daily what is the most important thing to do in a runner’s training to prevent injury. Is it the right shoe, the stretching, the strengthening, good running form, the correct training progression and so on and so on? The easy answer is yes. Yes, to all of them. But, if I have to pick one thing in the body to focus on from the years I’ve worked with injured runners the answer is work the King correctly.
The King is our glutes, but we can’t work the glutes correctly if we don’t have the flexibility we need in the front of our hips. So my new King is more globally referred to as your hips. Congratulations hips, you’ve been crowned King (or Queen, if you wish).
Why are the hips so important?
First of all, the glutes are comprised of 3 muscles. The gluteus maximus, the gluteus medius, and the gluteus minimus. The maximus is named correctly for its size and power. This is the largest of the gluteal muscles and our powerhouse in our body. This muscle helps to maintain balance when we are walking and running so our torso doesn’t fall over and also acts as a major stabilizer while running. In this blog, I am referring to running as any speeds other than sprinting. The medius and minimus also contribute to important stability in the hip. During running, the immediate second your foot hits the ground the glutes should be activated to help stabilize your pelvis. We often see someone running, perhaps in front of us, where the hips drop down side to side quite a bit. More likely than not, the glutes are not contributing correctly and this is very inefficient and injury provoking. This leads to a cascade of events down the entire leg causing abnormal mechanics at the knee and foot. We also see excessive leaning of the trunk side to side to try and compensate for this.
Effects of Weak Glutes
Weak or inactive glutes can also lead to the torso leaning too far forward in front of the hips causing excessive ground reaction forces through the spine and legs. A multitude of research has been done in ground reaction forces and running form. We’ve learned from this research that the further away from the body’s center of mass that the foot hits the ground, the higher the force that is slammed through the lower leg, knee, hip and spine. If the torso is pitched forward along with this pattern the force is compounded. Don’t sign me up for that. I’d like the King to do its job and support my body.
Testing Your Glutes
Often our glutes are so inhibited we can’t even consciously figure out how to turn them on with a simple command. Try this: Lay on the floor on your stomach, try to squeeze both the left and right glutes without turning on the muscles in the back of your legs (the hamstrings). If you can do this, great, that’s step one. Now try to isolate one glute at a time. Try to get only one side to contract, then release and try the other. Many can’t isolate one side, or get the contraction needed without the hamstring firing. Hamstrings become dominant because our hips have become lazy, weak, and or tight. This is a huge problem in athletes.
One reason our glutes become so dormant is because frankly, we sit on them too much. Our hip flexor muscles (in the front of the hip) become tight, the abdominals and glutes become weak. More than that, if our hip flexors are tight it can limit our glute function in two ways. It can cause our pelvis to become tipped forward which changes our center of mass and inherently shuts off the glutes or it can limit our hip extension (the motion of the hip behind us when we run or walk). In runners that are limited in their hip extension, it perpetuates the leg to land further in front of the body. What do we already know about that? It causes very high ground reaction forces in our body that lead to injury.
During running we store and release energy. We store energy appropriately by absorbing forces as we hit the ground with our glutes helping to stabilize and our knee bending. But, we then need to release this energy behind our body with the necessary amount of hip extension. If not enough energy is released, then we continue to find a way to release it.
What happens when the hip can’t extend correctly?
when the hip can’t extend correctly, the energy finds a way to be released and we see that happening then by the foot hitting too far in front of the body or by too much up and down motion. Both of these lead to high forces throughout.
So chicken or the egg? What happened first? Did our glutes become lazy or our hips become tight preventing them from working correctly? We can go in circles with this. The bottom line is the entire hip functioning correctly is the key. The front and back of the hip need to complement each other. It’s hard to have great glute function without good hip flexor mobility and vice versa. Yes, there is are many things that factor into running injury free, but start with the King, and work your way down from there.