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Monday, April 20, 2015

Strength Moves for Runners

This post is about my butt.

My butt muscles, specifically. Butt muscles are super important for runners. When they are weak, runners can experience some injuries in their IT bands, hips and lower back. And those butt muscles are crucial for running hills. So when I went to have a functional movement assessment, I wasn't too surprised to learn I needed to do some work in this area.

I met with Ron DeAngelo, Director of Sports Performance Training at the UPMC Center for Sports Medicine.

Ron is a nice guy. I could tell because he forgave me for arriving late. When I finally got there, we jumped right in with pointing out all my flaws. I walked up and down the floor in my bare feet. I walked regular, then I took tiny steps, then big steps. I did a squat walk, a duck walk, and a pigeon toe walk.

Ron was still nice as he pointed out things like unequal quad development, my total lack of arches, and significant internal rotation of my hips. The hip rotation is really visible in any photo of me running. Just look at my foot in the back stroke, how the toe points inward.

See that hip rotation?
I popped my shoes back on and did mini-runs for Ron outside in the parking lot and on the best treadmill ever. This treadmill had the tank treads and as soon as I took those first few strides I felt like I could run on it forever. It was truly the Cadillac of treadmills. I can't remember the brand.

Ron took lots of videos of me running and then we sat around for a few minutes analyzing my flawed running form. No one likes to have their flaws pointed out, but Ron does it in the nicest possible way. My hips rotate. I run too upright. My foot lands too far forward, my heel hits first, and I barely bend my knees. Part of me wonders how I've been able to run at all with these problems. But Ron had a lot of hope for me and told me to come back in a week where he would wave a magic wand and fix everything.

He didn't say that, because runners know there is no magic wand. There is only hard work.

At my next appointment, Ron introduced me to my new dynamic warm-up routine: a series of six exercises designed to loosen up my hips and strengthen my butt. Let's call them my Super Six. (I wanted a phrase that included the word "butt" but can't think of one. Any ideas?) Each move involves a stretch portion and a strength portion, and each move is balanced by an opposite move. I step forward and stretch my arms up, I step back and reach my arms down and under. I open my hips to the side and close them. I swivel my hips open and back then swivel them closed again. Six simple moves but when I push myself to get deep into the stretch and add just that little 5 lb weight, it burns.

It's a little early to know how these moves are going to impact me as a runner, but I do feel loosened up after my Super Six. I feel relaxed in the hips and powerful in my backside and a little bouncy, peppy and ready to go. I do them every other day before my run. Ron also suggested I add a 5 degree forward lean to my running form to improve my foot landing.

That evening, I couldn't wait to tell my family about what I had learned. They know how important running is to me.

"Where are you glutes?" asked the middle guy.

"In your butt," I answered.

"Just run like this!" he shouted and ran around the dining room shaking his butt with real fervor.

I knew I'd have their full support.

I have a lot of work to do. But I've been dealing with hip and lower back problems long enough now. I'm the kind of person who looks for a solution to things that bother me. I chose to get surgery for my SUI. I pursued every possible solution for my inflamed eyes. And I love running and want to be able to run for a long time, so I decided it was time to see how I could improve my running form so I could rack up miles for years to come.

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