It’s All In The Hips….It’s All in The Hips

It today’s world of weekend Crossfit certifications and the seemingly endless amount of those who are ACE, NASM, KNICKKNACKPADDYWHACK certified….there is so much focus put on “core strengthening”. Now, why is that bad? Well, first off, it’s not….BUT, the problem is, most of these Globo Gym trainers/coaches, don’t really know what CORE actually is. The majority of them, if you were to ask for a good core workout, would provide you with tons of ab work like planks, situps and toes to bar…or some combination of.

Turn around and ask anyone with half a brain what core is and, the answer would be ALL the muscles from navel to knee, front and back. This includes the glutes (all of them) abductors, adductors, hip flexors,  IT band, obliques, erector spinae and, all those intricate little components that help support these bigger components. Basically, it’s all the muscles that keep you erect and from looking like a weeble wobble with any movement you do. The core is the trunk of the tree and is constantly working hard to keep you from falling over…this is especially true when running.

Running, in it’s simplest of explanations, is basically just a controlled series of falling forward, letting momentum and gravity do it’s job. Problem is, most runners, have extremely weak and sloppy core strength, thus, they tend to fight the momentum and gravity in order to stabilize themselves with each foot strike. If you were to look at the average runners form in slow motion, you’d see some serious pelvic tilt, sagging hips, buckling knees, collapsing ankles…..Plain and simple, most runners are ugly to watch and rather than actually running, most of them are doing a forced shuffle that is anything but graceful and controlled.

The referred pain of nearly any running injury, be it knee pain, Achilles issues, calf issues, plantar fasciitis, etc., stems from having weak hips or glutes. As either one of those muscle groups are overly worked or taxed and or if they aren’t properly working or working enough, due to imbalances or lack of strength, then you can see why these other smaller muscles/tendons end up taking the brunt of the trauma of running.

Watch most elite runners and note their form. The lead leg lifts from the hip, bringing the knee up, the trail leg provides the push off for forward momentum, then, they allow gravity to do the rest by slightly leaning forward and letting all that kinetic energy do the work to propel them down the road/track.

Now, take a look at the typical marathoners form. It’s more or less nothing but a shuffle, the leg is actually stiffly thrown out in front, with the knee barely lifting at all. This dreaded marathon shuffle comes from having weaknesses and imbalances in the core, as well as having very poor range of motion.

Though the latter video is a bit embellished, I do know at least one runner who has nearly identical running form to each of the runners in the video.

As we run and train for distance, assuming that the average runner has a cadence of around 160 foot falls per minute 80 per foot). Each runner is making contact with the ground about 1200 times per mile or 30000+ times per week. With that many foot strikes, amplified by impact forces in excess of 3 times individual body weight, it’s no doubt that running can be stressful to the body.

Subconsciously, our body wants to follow the path of least resistance. Our weaker muscles want to defer their stress loads to the stronger muscles and connective tissues. For a while, that works. Eventually though, the stronger muscles over compensate and become over worked until, something has to give. Imagine walking across your living room with a pebble in your shoe. Not too bad, right? Now go and run a marathon with that same pebble in your shoe. Drastically different, huh?

There are tons of videos and coaches that promote learning good running form and, I am one of them. With that said, you can’t improve knee lift or hip drive, if your glutes and hips are weak, your range of motion is horrible and/or your body is operating asymmetrically due to imbalances.

So, the question is…how do you fix all of these issues?

First off, you have to identify the problematic areas. You need to determine if you are asymmetrical in regards to strength and range of motion. By doing a series of balancing, strength, mobility and range of motion tests, you can diagnose whether you have dominant glute strength or lack there of in one side over the other.

Once you determine this, then you’d want to begin incorporating (gradually of course) movements and exercises that start to pull the body back into alignment by way of strengthening the weaker side.

As you begin adding these strengthening exercises, you’ll begin to notice the changes in your running form/gait. You’ll start to notice that the hip is driving forward more and that the knee is seeming to lift on it’s own, without you overly thinking about doing it. You’ll begin to notice that later into your runs, despite being fatigued and tired, your form has remained intact and that you are starting to experience less and less soreness after harder effort runs. Just observing soreness after every long run, is a simple enough sign that you have some imbalances and weaknesses somewhere. These soreness areas are your onboard diagnostics and they are trying to tell you to fix something. They are your CHECK ENGINE light.

To conclude, it doesn’t matter how fast or “good” of a runner you are, if you can’t stay injury free. If you’re constantly bouncing from one injury to another, then it’s time to stop being stubborn and fix the damn problem!! It’s as simple as devoting a total of 1 extra hour per week to your training. That 1 hour can be the difference between long term healthy running or, never ending nagging injuries. Why waste months of quality training, only to be sitting on the couch because you now can’t run due to some preventable injury.

Continue following for details of these various strength movements, drills and balance work.

To be your best, it’s all the little things that add up. Train smart, do your maintenance, recover, repeat!! That’s the formula to reaching your greatest potential.

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