Run Eas­ier Right Now!

Runner's World (UK) - - IN THIS ISSUE -

Five ways to un­lock the power of your glutes

THE THRILL OF RUN­NING CAN dis­tract us from the re­al­ity of what is hap­pen­ing to you with ev­ery stride. Your heart beats harder, pump­ing blood through­out your body. Sweat drips down your fore­head as your body tem­per­a­ture rises. You feel the wind on your face as you turn up the trail or down the road. These are the im­ages run­ning con­jures up in our heads and they are real, but while your heart and lungs are driv­ing your en­gine, your chas­sis is un­der a lot of stress. Like it or not, your body must deal with two-and-a-half to three times its weight with ev­ery stride.

Think about this. If you stand on both legs, you have half your weight on each leg. If you stand on one leg, that’s 100 per cent of your weight on one leg. Now take a bar­bell, add about 150 per cent of your weight to it and hoist the load onto your shoul­ders; then stand on one leg.

Like it or not, this is how much stress your bones, ten­dons, mus­cles, car­ti­lage and lig­a­ments sup­port with ev­ery stride you take. As run­ners, we’ve been told dis­tance run­ning is a small amount of stress ap­plied to your body for a long time. If any­thing, we could say that run­ning is large stresses act­ing on our body for a long time.

Fur­ther com­pli­cat­ing mat­ters is the fact that run­ning isn’t just a sin­gle-plane sport. In ad­di­tion to these ver­ti­cal forces, we have to deal with brak­ing and ac­cel­er­a­tion forces that amount to 40-50 per cent of our body’s weight. And that’s while our body is kicked lat­er­ally by forces of around 15 per cent of our weight just from the ef­fort of run­ning. Run­ning cre­ates huge amounts of stress that acts on the body from all sides.

This load act­ing on your body is ab­so­lute and rather me­chan­i­cal. But your body’s re­sponse isn’t just me­chan­i­cal. Imag­ine a rub­ber ball. If you throw a rub­ber ball off the roof, it will first ac­cel­er­ate to the ground. When it col­lides with the ground, the en­ergy of the im­pact will flat­ten the ball out a bit and then the ball will re­bound off the ground and spring back up again. The ball is pas­sive – it com­presses and re­bounds based on the den­sity of the rub­ber from which it is made. This is a sim­ple il­lus­tra­tion of how a pas­sive ob­ject re­sponds to load.

Now imag­ine you are soar­ing through the air in mid-stride and the same grav­ity that ac­cel­er­ated the rub­ber ball takes you back to earth. That’s where the sim­i­lar­ity ends, be­cause the body isn’t pas­sive. It’s a com­plex sys­tem of parts, with a neu­ro­mus­cu­lar sys­tem that ac­tively moves, ad­justs and co­or­di­nates these parts in re­sponse to the me­chan­i­cal forces of run­ning.

Don’t ne­glect the glute

When you run, es­pe­cially as your speed in­creases, more and more oomph needs to come from the mus­cles that ex­tend the hips. But it’s likely that years of over­strid­ing have wired your mus­cle mem­ory to favour the quads and ne­glect the glutes. Put sim­ply, the typ­i­cal run­ner is quad-heavy and glute-light.

Most run­ners over­stride. The lab data I’ve col­lected over a decade re­veals that most run­ners don’t know how to fully use the mus­cles in their back­side. It would be much eas­ier if mus­cle con­trol was bal­anced around the body, but the re­al­ity is most peo­ple are out of bal­ance, a prob­lem that is not exclusive to run­ning. Dr Vladimir Janda, a pi­o­neer in mus­cu­lar ther­apy, coined the term ‘lower crossed syn­drome’ to de­scribe the im­bal­ance that oc­curs when the hip flex­ors, quads and lower back mus­cles are tight and overused, and the deep-core and glu­teus max­imus are asleep at the wheel.

The best way to in­hibit the mus­cles around your hips is to screw up your pos­ture. And then there’s the is­sue of tight hips. If those mus­cles are tight, your hip won’t have full ex­ten­sion to both sides of your pelvis. This im­bal­ance isn’t a run­ning prob­lem; it’s a body prob­lem. But if it’s not cor­rected, you’ll never be able to cor­rect your stride. About 80 per cent of run­ners will need to do a lot of hip flexor stretches to im­prove this.

Your quads are big mus­cles, ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing a huge amount of force. No mat­ter what your run­ning form, you need your quads to work hard. But mus­cles don’t act alone, and we cer­tainly don’t want the quads to carry the torch when run­ning. Chang­ing your dom­i­nant mus­cles for mov­ing and run­ning is crit­i­cal to im­prov­ing joint health and per­for­mance.


The prob­lem with quad de­pen­dency

Be­ing overly re­liant on your quads cre­ates three big prob­lems. First, it can wreck your knees. Nearly ev­ery study on run­ning in­juries ranks patel­lafemoral pain in the top three in­juries af­fect­ing run­ners. Your patella (kneecap) is ba­si­cally a pul­ley for your quad. When you over­stride, the torque – me­chan­i­cal load – on the knee is greater. The quad has to work harder, cre­at­ing more shear across the sur­face of the patella, which isn’t the best thing for the long-term health of the car­ti­lage un­der­neath it. Chang­ing your mus­cle dom­i­nance will re­duce stress on the knee.

Sec­ond, there are per­for­mance im­pli­ca­tions for our bias to­ward the quads. Your quad has a greater per­cent­age of fast-twitch fi­bres. So, for a given run­ning pace, your quads will be work­ing closer to peak ca­pac­ity and en­ter into a fa­tigued state – or acidic state – sooner. When the mus­cle gets too acidic, the ph level drops and the mus­cle can’t con­tract and re­lax as well, so you end up hit­ting the wall. Since the glute has more slowtwitch fi­bres, it pro­duces smaller amounts of acidic waste prod­ucts and can last longer be­fore build­ing up a lot of waste. This means you can main­tain a harder pace for a lit­tle longer with­out fall­ing apart.

Fi­nally, your quads sim­ply can't match the to­tal body con­trol your glutes are ca­pa­ble of set­ting in mo­tion. Your glu­teus max­imus has three pri­mary func­tions, all of which ben­e­fit your run­ning:

1. It is an in­cred­i­bly pow­er­ful, fa­tigue-re­sis­tant mus­cle that drives your hip from the front of your body to the back. Your quads do the op­po­site.

2. It is also your pri­mary hip ex­ter­nal ro­ta­tor; in other words, it pre­vents your knees from crash­ing in when you run.

3. Fi­nally, your glu­teus max­imus plays a huge role in pos­tural con­trol; if your glute isn't fir­ing prop­erly, your torso will pitch for­ward and cause you to over­stride. Over­strid­ing means very high load­ing rates with each step, putting the body un­der more stress with ev­ery stride.

This stuff mat­ters. See right for three glute-ac­ti­vat­ing moves from the 83 ex­er­cises in Run­ning Rewired.


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