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Run off the Winter Blues Part 8

Chartered Physiotherapist Rob Hanley (of our Limerick clinic) takes us through strengthening exercises for runners.

We all have muscular imbalances. Those of us that are right footed or right handed will have muscles that are, on average, 10-15% stronger than those of our left side and vice versa. This is normal but for some people this difference can he heightened further. Look at Rafael Nadal. Years of tennis have lead to a remarkable difference in his upper arm muscle size between his left and right side.

Rafael’s big left arm is an advantage to his tennis but big muscular discrepancies in runners can be disastrous, particularly when doing longer distances. Imagine if Rafael had one very strong leg and one very weak leg. He’d go for his run, the strong leg feeling completely normal, but eventually, the weaker leg would start to tire and eventually get sore. Doing this repeatedly would lead to injury in that leg. So runners must look after their weakest links, as this is the body part most likely to get injured or, at the very least, limit their performance.

Gluteal Muscles Weakness

One thing I perpetually see in patients with running injuries are weak gluteal muscles, particularly in glute medius. The gluteals are the largest muscles in the human body. This is a necessity as they must be strong enough to support all our body weight on every step we take when walking and push us forward when we run. They are essentially the big link between the pelvis and our legs.

There are many reasons why an otherwise healthy, strong runner can have problems with their glutes. Almost anyone who works in an office will sit for anywhere between 6 and 12 hours per day. All this sitting creates a lethargic gluteal muscle. It gets used to us sitting on it all day so that when it is time for us to use it when running, it will be slow to act and let other muscles take up the strain instead. This is not just limited to those of us who sit though. Those of us who stand for prolonged periods with poor posture can also encounter similar changes in the muscle. The muscle essentially switches off. Runners with sleepy glutes or “gluteal amnesia” as it is termed can quickly run into problems with their hips, knees, feet and even lower backs as these areas try to take on the work that this big muscle is designed to do.

The key is waking up these glutes and getting them strong to make sure they work for us when we run and support our backs and smaller joints. There are lots of different ways of doing this but here are 2 great ones to start with.

The Clam Shell

Lying on your side, open and close your knees as shown in the picture below. Typically hold this for 10 seconds and do it 10 times and progress as able.

The Resisted Clamshell

Once you have mastered the clam shell a nice progression is to do the same drill but with Theraband or Cliniband as resistance. Again start with 10 second holds x 10 times and progress as able.

In the next post Rob will be looking at the importance of core stability. Stayed tuned!


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