Glutes for Runners...The Key to Preventing Running Injuries!
Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
Running is a sport which places tremendous demands on the body. Many runners eventually, after running hundreds or thousands of kilometres, begin to exhibit wear and tear injuries related to weak core and gluteal muscles. These injuries include but are not limited to low back pain, patellafemoral sydrome, wear and tear of the meniscus (in the knee), and shin splints. Fortunately, many running injuries can be prevented and/or alleviated by following a proper strength and conditioning program that focuses on strengthening the core and gluteal muscles.
Many core stability programs tend to focus on the trunk muscles (transversus, multifidus, obliques and paraspinals); however, the gluteal muscles are also very important for core stability and preventing low back pain. The gluteals are a group of muscles that make up the bum area, called the gluteus maximus (image on the left), medius (image to the right below) and minimus (image to the left below). In anatomical terms the gluteus maximus is a hip extensor muscle (pulling the leg back) and the medius and minimus are hip abductor muscles (pulling the leg up to the side). However, for the purposes of injury prevention and improving stability, the function of the gluteals is to stabilise the pelvis and trunk and not to move the legs.
Stabilisers and mobilisers
Stabiliser muscles act to control the motion of a limb or the trunk. They tend to act more continuously either in a 'quasi-static' manner or with a controlling eccentric pull. The muscle activity tends to be at a low level. For example, during running the gluteus maximus acts to maintain upright posture and laterally rotate the femur as the leg pushes off, helping to achieve the toe-off position. The medius and minimus work to maintain a level pelvis when weight-bearing on one leg, preventing the free side from dropping down. They also control the rotation of the pelvis as the free leg swings forward. These are not muscle actions at a specific time which produce a movement but more of a continuous activity to maintain the optimal pelvic position.
From the example of running, it can be seen that during any functional task the muscles work in different types of ways to perform different roles. This is true of any activity of daily living (ADL), such as vacuum cleaning or picking up boxes, and athletic movements, such as jumping or swinging a golf club. These different muscles must work together in a co-ordinated fashion, with the strong mobiliser muscles powerfully contracting through the full range of motion and the stabiliser muscles switching on at the right times to control the joint positions.
This is the key difference between functional tasks and exercises where muscle groups work in isolation and explains why the mobiliser/stabiliser system is so important to understand. For effective core stability and injury prevention one must train 'movements' and 'positions' rather than 'muscles'. By this I mean that exercises are more effective when they mirror the demands of ADL's or athletic movements. It is possible to perform exercises which isolate the gluteus maximus (ie. leg extensions) and gluteus medius and minimus (ie. hip abductions), but this is not how these muscle act in reality.
The system tells us that stabiliser muscles need to switch on easily at low-load levels, they need to be able to maintain joint position and they need to have good endurance. Stabiliser muscles tend to become inhibited and are not active enough for sufficient duration. Therefore to train stabiliser muscles correctly, exercises should involve positions that mirror ADL or athletic movements, they should be trained with light loads and many repetitions or made to hold the correct position for a prolonged period.
Here a few functional exercises to help strengthen your glutes and keep your low back and lower body free of injury:
The Wood Chop
The Hip Hiker
STAY TUNED FOR NEXT MONTH'S LIV WELL NEWSLETTER WHERE WE WILL SHOW A VIDEO OF THESE EXERCISES.
© 2007 Yuri Elkaim, BPHE, CK, RHN
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