Let me start by making a statement, some of you runners are not going to like hearing; “Just because you run, this DOES NOT mean you necessarily have strong, stable and functional glutes and/or hips”. In the past 2 months, we have had this conversation and in some cases, full on debates with so many of our distance running patients that we have been forced to write a blog about it. Although it may sound reasonable to think that running builds leg and glute strength, studies have shown that this is not always the situation.
There are a number of reasons as to why a distance runner may have weak or non-active muscles. Firstly, some muscles can become more dominant then others, if they are recruited or ask to work more then another. For example, both the glutes and hamstrings play a role in extending the hip. If the hamstrings are recruited more often then the glutes, the action of hip extension will be taken over primarily by the hamstrings causing the glutes to shut down. As the old saying goes “If you don’t use it, you lose it”. This problem can often be exaggerated with exercises that don’t isolate the specific muscles we are trying to strengthen. Lets use squats as an example. Squats activate a number of muscles in the legs and hips including; quads, hamstrings and glutes to name a few. If we were doing squats to increase glute strength but our hamstrings were more dominant and/or our glute muscles did not fire properly, then which muscles do you think would take over that movement? Obviously our hamstrings and hence our attempt to strengthen our glutes has failed.
Another reason for a muscle to shut down or not activate properly is because they get inhibited by another muscle. In runners we often find tight hip flexors which can inhibit the function and/or activation of the glutes. If a muscle doesn’t activate or fire properly, then our ability to depend on that muscle when we need it, is compromised. This is a very important statement to get our heads around, as this is what often leads to injury. In order to preform the act of running, efficiently and effectively, our muscles must activate, contract and relax at very specific moments throughout our running gait. If one muscle fails to do so, once or repetitively, then the action becomes flawed, tissues get stressed and injuries occur. Hip weakness in runners has been linked to iliotibial-band syndrome, runners knee, low back pain, shin splints and Achilles issues.
So, if your a runner and want to improve your running efficiency, prevent injury or possibly even resolve a ongoing or reoccurring injury have your glute and hip strength and function tested. It might be your missing link.