Core Series: Hip Flexors

The hip flexor is actually made up of 2 different muscles: Psoas Major/Minor and Iliacus.

iliopsoas_muscle_lg

I like color-coded things.

As you can see, the Psoas muscle comes from spinal attachments. And Iliacus comes from internal hip boney attachments. So why are they “iliopsoas”, one muscle?

Because they essentially fuse once they cross the hip joint.

BUUUUUUUUUT, this makes it that much more complicated of a muscle group where core work is concerned.

A weak or tight psoas muscle can cause one side of your pelvis to tip forward. This is called an anterior innominate and it ain’t right.

Yeah, but only on ONE side. OUCH.

Yeah, but only on ONE side. OUCH.

It can also cause a twisting motion to happen because the muscle attachments are at an angle from the spine to the hip. Double ouch.

The Iliacus is a whole different beast. It attaches on the inside of your hip wing (Ilium) and then shares a common attachment with the psoas on your femur (thigh bone) at the lesser trochanter.

lesser_trochanter_

The green colored spots are the lesser trochanter on the medial (inside) part of your femur (thigh) bone.

Can you see how if these muscles are tight or weak that they might affect your core? And your gait, right? Huge. These two muscles are not just straight up and down and they have big jobs in multiple movements of the trunk and legs.

Here’s how to keep these hip flexors happy and healthy:

1. Pelvic tilts (Beginner)

Lying on your bed or another soft, level surface, place a pillow under your knees. WITHOUT PUSHING INTO YOUR FEET (tip, put something under your feet that you don’t want to crush, ie. your phone), draw your belly button toward your spine. Slowly return to neutral.

Neutral spine (slight curve is natural)

Neutral spine (slight curve is natural)

Spine curves and belly draws down to create a concave curve.

Spine curves and belly draws down to create a concave curve.

Repeat 10 times WITHOUT SQUEEZING YOUR BUTT. And remember, don’t put any weight in your feet.

2. Heel slides (Intermediate)

Lying on the floor with your socks on and knees bent, slowly allow one leg to straighten and pull it back to being bent WITHOUT LETTING YOUR HIP HIKE. You can place your hands on your headlights so you can feel them move.

Start with your leg straight.

Start with your leg straight.

Slowly drag your heel toward your butt (no weight in your feet!)

Slowly drag your heel toward your butt (no weight in your feet!)

NO HIP HIKING (this is hip hiking)

NO HIP HIKING (this is hip hiking)

This is what your hips should look like. No hiking. Totally level.

This is what your hips should look like. No hiking. Totally level.

How not to let them move? Suck your belly button in and go slowly.

3. Straight leg raises (Advanced)

Lying on a flat surface with one leg straight and one knee bent, lift your straight leg as high as you can WITHOUT PUSHING INTO YOUR FOOT OR HIKING YOUR HIP.

Start with your leg straight.

Start with your leg straight.

Only go as high as you can go WITHOUT HIKING YOUR HIP.

Only go as high as you can go WITHOUT HIKING YOUR HIP.

Doing these exercises correctly is the key. You can do this stuff and throw your leg around easily. BUT can you do it without hiking your hip or squeezing your butt?

If you feel wimpy for doing just the pelvic tilts, don’t. They are like the ballet of hip flexor exercises. You have to perfect and maintain your form with the pelvic tilts in order to do ANY other hip flexor exercise. This is why I suggest doing them no matter how strong you get.

(PS. All my new moms NEED to be doing pelvic tilts and heel slides, especially C-section mamas!)

Let’s make strong, happy hips, shall we?

Now go out and run!

Core Series: Hamstrings

Hamstrings…not exactly the muscle group you think of when someone says “core”, amiright?

  1. Biceps femoris
  2. Semitendonosus
  3. Semimembranosus
The problem children of runners the world over.

The problem children of runners the world over.

I kept that picture HUGE so you can see all the little details. See how the hamstrings attach to the bottom of the pelvis (called the ischial tuberosity–please STOP CALLING IT A SITS/SITZ BONE) and then shares an attachment site with the sacrotuberus ligament that attaches to the sacrum?

Here’s the point: tight hamstrings are more than just a pain in the leg. Tight hamstrings can pull your pelvis downward, causing a posterior pelvic tilt. What does that mean? Low back pain and asymmetry. Remember my 3 S’s? Strength, stability, symmetry. Asymmetrical –> injury.

So, tight RIGHT hamstring can also put too much stretch on the RIGHT hip flexor, causing a tension reaction (also can indicate a weak RIGHT hip flexor) and mess up your gait when you walk and run. It’s also just painful.

How to strengthen it?

You can do basic hamstring curls, but that’s not very practical in everyday use. My favorite exercise: Physioball Roll-ins.

IMG_3164IMG_3165

IMG_3168

The key part of this exercise is to lift your butt and KEEP YOUR HIPS AT THAT HEIGHT while you bend your knees inward. If your hips go up or down, you lose the exercise completely.

It’s hard, I know. If it’s too easy for you, check your form. The strongest of athletes can’t do this exercise without wobbling.

IMG_31662IMG_31672

IMG_31692

For those of you who need a less strenuous hamstring exercise, there’s the Standing Leg Curl. They key part of this exercise is to make sure your bending knee’s hip doesn’t dip as you lift your foot. Standing against a wall or a table will assure your hips stay level when you do it.

Most importantly, SUCK YOUR BELLY BUTTON IN and stick your chest up and out to activate your other core muscles.

IMG_32272IMG_32292

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You can add an ankle weight or a Theraband with cuffs when you get stronger.

In order to perform these exercises and get a benefit from them, I recommend starting with only a few reps (2-6) for 3 sets. Only do as many reps as you can maintain perfect form. Stop as soon as your form goes. Rest. Try again after a full minute.

Now go out and run!

Are You Strength Training the Right Way?

Winter running season is also known as off-season for most of us. We take a break from the heavy mileage, as least for a few weeks/months, and hit the weights and our favorite cross-training workouts.

Snow thanks, I'll spin.

Snow thanks, I’ll spin.

And hitting the weights should be your TOP priority during the off season. But are you doing it right?

I’m sore for 3 or 4 days after I lift. That’s good, right?

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Stop that right now. Soreness is due to microtears in the muscle fibers due to challenging the muscle either with more weight or a different movement. This is normally a good thing that allows for growth of the muscle. BUUUUUUUT, when normal soreness is 24-48 hours. After that, it’s not soreness, it’s muscular necrosis (dead tissue).

The danger of doing this? Rhabdomyolysis, which is basically poisoning your kidneys with the chemicals your dying tissue releases. Can permanently damage your kidneys and put you in the ICU.

DANGER Will Robinson.

Challenging your body is good, just don’t go overboard.

I strength train once a week. That’s enough.

No, it’s not. I’ve discussed de-training here before but it had more to do with aerobic capacity. Power and strength are a little different, but the bottom line is you need to strength train every 3-4 days (2-3 times/week) to make and maintain strength gains. Otherwise, it’s a brand new to your muscles every week.

Weights are your friend. Get to know them.

Weights are your friend. Get to know them.

I don’t lift heavy weights because it’s going to make me bulk up.

I can’t even with this. Every health and fitness magazine in the world has an article of why this isn’t true. I don’t need to belabor the point. It’s just true, ok?

I run. I don’t need to lift. Running makes my legs strong.

…said every runner who then ended up with an injury due to strength defects. Look, it’s all about strength, symmetry, and stability. Long distance running does not promote any of these things because it’s unidirectional and repetitive. Sprinting or hill workouts can definitely help, but you have to do them right.

Don't be this guy (Image courtesy of vector.rs)

Get strong before you go long.
(Image courtesy of vector.rs)

Focused, functional movements on multiple planes with challenging weights is how you get stronger.

I hope this helps as you head into your off season!

Now go out and run.

No Goal Running

Holy smokes, you guys. I gotta give a shout out to Theodora over at Daily Burn for the amazing mention in her article yesterday. I don’t even know what to say. I’m honored.

Welcome to the off-season of running. With the exception of CIM, I don’t think there are many other large marathons happening for a while. Hallelujah.

Hip-hip HOORAY for off season!!!!

Hip-hip HOORAY for off season!!!!

I realize that not all of you love off-season. I agree that it can be difficult to get motivated to run when there’s not a specific goal in the upcoming months to work toward. It’s not easy.

Buuuuuuuuut, there are lots of things to do that will prepare you for NEXT YEAR’s race. Read on.

  1. Get that nagging pain checked out and addressed.
  2. Get in better shape. Not running shape, better shape.
  3. Work on weight loss. If this something you feel you need to do, this is the time.
  4. Get stronger. Every one of you needs to do this RIGHT NOW.
  5. Work on speed.

It may be hard to believe, but the work that you put in NOW is going to determine how those 12 weeks of marathon training next Spring or Fall will go. Really.

So, yeah, go for runs. Have some fun. Play in the snow (or, if you’re in NYC today, the pouring frickin rain) and run the shorter distances (10 miles or less) until your training season ramps up next year.

Get strong before you go long.

Me? I'm Refine-ing to get stronger! Apparently, great minds think alike over at Refine Method. (Image shamelessly stolen from Brynn)

Me? I’m Refine-ing to get stronger! Apparently, great minds think alike over at Refine Method.
(Image shamelessly stolen from Brynn)

I should trademark that. But seriously, get strong now. Work on those weak areas now. Get into the gym and get to know your friendly physical therapist. Cuz off season has its place, too!

Now go out and run.

CrossFit and Running

This post has been gestating for a while, ever since I created a training schedule for my friend Tina’s Hat Trick. Tina is a big time CrossFitter but also an experienced runner. My challenge was to keep CrossFit in her life while she trains for a 5K and a 10K on the SAME DAY and then a half-marathon the VERY NEXT DAY.

Yowza.

(Halfway) Dr. Abby is on the case!

(Halfway) Dr. Abby is on the case!

The flood of emails that followed from my popular friend’s blog posting about her new schedule were predominantly about how to train for a marathon while still being able to do CrossFit. Some were CrossFit-like HIIT workouts, but the majority were people going to actual CrossFit boxes (this is what they call their gyms).

Disclaimer: I do not condone nor was I compensated by CrossFit or any CrossFit affiliates. This is NOT an article supporting or encouraging the use CrossFit in any fitness program, but rather a “How To” guide for marathon training for those who don’t want to exclude it from their schedule.

Probably. (Image courtesy of AnderToons.com)

Probably.
(Image courtesy of AnderToons.com)

There are a couple of rules of thumb that you will just have to deal with during training if you want to get the most out of your running program.

  1. Put your running first.
  2. Scale back your heavy lifting to 2 days per week in order to get the most out of your run workouts.
  3. During peak running season, don’t increase the weight on your strength workouts.
  4. Get more rest. No really, get MUCH more rest.
  5. Schedule your lifting days appropriately in your running schedule.

With each of my CrossFit runners, they learned #1 the hard way. They didn’t want to switch up the WODs (Workout Of the Day) for their runs and thought they could do it all and see results in running.

Thing is, it’s no my opinion that they need to prioritize running in order to see running results. It’s science.

One specific type of muscle fiber develops during maximum lift training. Another completely different type of fiber develops during endurance training. They don’t exactly play nice together. There are a few other in-betweenys but those two are the biggies who rule the schoolyard.

Only one can win.

Only one can win.

So, when you think about mixing marathon training with CrossFit, get your priorities lined up. What’s important? Running a great race? Continuing to rock your CrossFit WODs? Setting a personal best in the 26.2? Putting up more weight on your deadlifts?

It’s all about what your personal goals are. You can do both, but in the end, one really has to be the focus. Set the other one on the back burner and put it on low heat during high training.

Now go out and run.