Wednesday, May 16, 2012

For Runners: Strengthen and Activate Your Glutes

Well I’m still trying to run.

Recently my piriformis has been very very verrrrryyy tight and painful. I stretch it, and then it tightens up again. I foam roll it, and next day I’m back to square one of ickiness, relegating me to long lonely pool workouts or short painful run attempts (not advisable).

Turns out, this is most likely a new iteration of an old problem: when running, my glutes don’t engage (translation: I have a lazy a**). They are strong, but they just don’t “fire” at the right times, putting all the strain of my stride on my small overworked pitiful piriformis muscles.

This is actually a really common problem for people who sit at desks all day, and/or if you have tight hamstrings and hip flexors (which applies to most runners).

The good news is that I’ve fixed this problem before and I will do it again! The secret is to do these exercises before running or pooling or whatever you’re doing. It’s a reminder to your muscles that they need to work now!

How to strengthen your glutes:

(Shout out to Dr. John!)

The Quadruped Hip Extension

  1. Start on your hands and knees, making sure everything is square and lined up.
  2. Tighten your core and contract your abs to stabilize the spine.
  3. Focus on contracting the left glute (you must focus on contracting before you lift your leg!). You may need to place your hand on your glute to be sure it contracts.
  4. Slowly lift the left leg up while keeping a 90-degree bend at the knee.
  5. The left thigh should be nearly parallel with the ground.
  6. Slowly lower to the start position and repeat 10 reps per side.

The Bridge Exercise

  1. Lay on your back with your hands by your sides, your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Make sure your feet are under your knees.
  2. Tighten your abdominal and glute muscles.
  3. Raise your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to your shoulders.
  4. Squeeze your core and try to pull your belly button back toward your spine. Focus on keeping your hamstrings relaxed. The goal is to maintain a straight line from your shoulders to your knees and hold for 20 to 30 seconds.

The Single Leg Bridge Exercise (more advanced)

  1. Lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet are under your knees.
  2. Tighten your abdominal and glute muscles and slowly lift your hips up to create a straight line from your knees to shoulders.
  3. Slowly raise and extend one leg while keeping your pelvis raised and level. If your hips sag or drop, place the leg back on the floor and do a double leg bridge until you become stronger.
  4. Hold to position for 10 seconds and lower. Repeat with the opposite leg.

Do these exercise in combination with the Hip Flexor and Piriformis Stretching and Strengthening that I blogged a few weeks ago.  It’s really not very much – just 8 things total – but if you’re going to prioritize, I suggest focusing on stretching your hip flexor and piriformis and the quadruped hip extension (above) before and after every workout.