Exercises To Do This Week: STRONGER HIPS

Question:

Why can’t I lift my knees higher when I run?

Why does it ache on the outside of my hip?

Why does my IT band flare up all the time?

Why can’t I stride longer?

Why is my foot turnover slow?

Why does it hurt across the top of my butt?

Why do I trip over my toes when I run/walk?

Answer: Your hips are weak.

A little anatomy lesson:

The hip joint is the largest joint of your body. The anatomy of the front of the hip joint looks like this:

Image from Wikipedia

The psoas major and illiacus form the iliopsoas tendon that crosses from the abdominal cavity into the lower extremity (your quadricep area). This tendon is responsible for lifting both a straight leg and bent knee forward.

The tensor fascia lata (TFL) is the muscle belly for the dreaded Illiotibial band/tract (IT band) that steadies the hip laterally as you put pressure on your legs in the form of walking and running. It’s a hip stabilizer. Without it, the hip would pop out of the socket.

The anatomy of the rear (and most internal) part of the hip looks like this:

Image from Wikipedia

These are the hip rotators, responsible for rotating (duh) and stabilizing the hip joint.

Image from Wikipedia

The gluteus maximus (largest muscle in your rear) is the powerhouse of pushing (think sitting down and standing up) and the gluteus medius is responsible for abduction (lifting your leg to the side), rotation and stabilization of the hip.

What does this mean to you? In short, these muscles are your problem. If you’re a female, they are usually a very big problem because female hip girdles are much wider than that of men and the angle from our hip to our knee is more severe. Big problem.

These muscles stabilize your hip joint as you run and walk. Because running and walking has forward motion and rarely has lateral movement, these are the secondary muscles that keep your hip in place as you push off and catch yourself. Because they are secondary, they are often ignored in a typical strength training routine. Running and walking is choreographed falling and these muscles keep your hip from falling right out of its socket. If you swim, bike, do yoga or dance, they are the muscles that help you kick and push and pull your legs. Pretty important, right?

They are so important that most people pay absolutely no attention to them at all until they hurt like hell. Why? It’s just lack of knowledge. But you’re a smart runner. You seek knowledge before there’s a problem. That’s why you’re here.

When these muscles are ignored, you can end up with tendonitis, ITB syndrome, TFL problems, meniscus tears, lower back pain, muscle strains everywhere from your hips to your calves and a whole host of other problems. All because you’re missing three simple exercises from your weekly workouts. No longer.

#1. Leg Lift: for the iliopsoas (the one that lifts your leg and your knee)

-Lie flat on your back with a light ankle weight around your straight leg.

-Keep your toes pointed toward the sky and lift your straight leg up and down for one minute with out stopping.

#2. Abductor Leg Lift: for the hip rotators and gluteus medius

-Lie directly on your side with one arm tucked under your head and the other in front of your belly button for balance. Legs straight, one on top of the other.

-Lift your top straight leg up to just past hip height. Keep all of your toes facing forward (don’t turn them up toward the ceiling) and lower the leg back down. 1 minute without stopping.

#3. Rear Leg Lift: for gluteus maximus (big butt muscle)

-Lie on your stomach with your hands under your forehead, forehead on the ground. Legs straight, toes slightly lower than your body (see how LB’s toes are off the mat?)

-Squeeze your butt (very important!) and lift your straight leg up a few inches (no higher) and then back down, but don’t lose the feeling of squeezing your butt. The more you squeeze, the more you work.

Every single athlete, heck, PERSON in the world should be doing these exercises. They help prevent and rehabilitate the most common injuries that sideline runners by strengthen those tiny, but vitally important, muscles of the hip. This is the largest joint of the body (I know I said that already, but IT IS), so show it some love. My Radio City Rockette has learned to love these exercises and so should you! Do each of these exercises for one minute twice a week and you will be amazed at how it helps make you a better, stronger runner. I promise.

Now go out and run!

Hills Can Be Your Friend

Hills. I hate ’em. We used to have to run the local ski hill in junior high and high school cross country. Admittedly, it was in Chicago so our “ski hill” was a true skier’s bunny hill. BUT STILL. It sucked.

My least favorite, but most rewarding hill, is the climb to the finish line at the Marine Corps Marathon. It finishes at Arlington Cemetery in front of the statue of the soldiers at Iwo Jima. It’s an up hill finish line and it is torture. But, it’s the end so it’s kind of awesome. Still, not my favorite way to finish a race.

Reasons I don’t like hills:

-They make my quads burn

-I can’t stride out

-They seem endless

-I sometimes want to vomit when I reach the top, but it’s almost never the end.

I sound like a great, big whiner right now. Pathetic, I know. But don’t be fooled by my whining, I still do my hills. Actually, when the race has some rolling hills, I do far better than if it’s completely flat the entire way. You do, too, you just don’t know why.

Hills do our bodies good. It allows our hamstrings to take a break and our quadriceps to take over as the main muscle group of our stride. This switching back and forth keeps our legs fresh because one muscle group isn’t being beaten up for the entirety of our run. This is more valuable than you think.

The Brooklyn Half-Marathon used to start at Coney Island and go north for 8 miles up Coney Island Avenue into Prospect Park. This meant that the first 8 miles of the race were completely flat. Great, right? Wrong. It wears out the hamstrings and your body gets overtired from running on the same surface for such a long time.

I remember very vividly hitting the park, which has some hills but nothing like the Presidio (that place was terrifying!), and being able to go faster. I tapped into my bored quadriceps for energy and gave my hammys a break. I left a lot of people in my dust because I focused on the previously second-tier muscles of my quadriceps and decided that they were ready, willing and able to take over as the motor of my running. I also had the very lovely reward of also going down the hills which I climbed. This is both tremendously mentally rewarding and physically rewarding.

A little thought about fact is also that running up hills takes away a tremendous amount of pounding on your joints. Because you’re pushing the weight of your body uphill, the force on your joints is lessened (well done, first semester physics teacher). The benefits of less hammering on your body is obvious. Suffice to say that this is a good thing. A good thing for racing and a good thing for your weekly workouts.

So next time you’re looking at a race and marveling about how flat and fast it is, remember that a flat road isn’t always your best friend. Try a race with some rolling hills. You might surprise yourself and enjoy the benefits of going both up AND down.

Now go out and run!!!

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: Best Summer EVER!

Today is Tuesday. That means today’s blog is all about how it’s good to be here because it’s better than not being here. I love this theme. Whenever I get down on myself or what’s not going ah-mazing at the moment, I am reminded in little ways how charmed my life really is. For example, I get to write for you fine folks out there. That’s pretty cool.

But our reason for today’s BTAT is Summer.

Summer is a time of rest and relaxation for most people. Not for me. Summer means all day, all night studying for me.

This was my work.

This was my view of Summer happening from Bobst.

But I got through it and had some fun, too! I mean, this was the Summer of the final Harry Potter movie!

It all ended and it was AWESOME! And sad 😦

I spent some fabulous time in the Hamptons with some awesome ladies from lululemon.

Bikes are fun!

I did some outdoor yoga in the middle of Manhattan, which is always a good time.

Yoga! Yoga! Yoga! (Imagine Belushi chanting this)

I have a newfound love of my lovely running hat. I don’t get sunburned on my face when I wear it. Funny how that works, huh?

              

I was honored by my favorite company to become one of their Ambassadors. I said yes. And maybe I cried a little. Don’t judge.

Presents AND an Ambassadorship? Well, oh-kay. If I must.

And I experienced my first earthquake and hurricane (turned tropical storm) in the same week in the same city. And that city was New York City. Go figure.

Hurricane? What hurricane? I’m siiiiiingin’ in the rain!

But by far the best part of the entire summer was becoming an aunt for the very first time. My little Peanut is the sweetest baby on this planet and I miss seeing her even after only spending a few short days rocking her to sleep. Added bonus of spending some important time with my family in the great state of Colorado. Auntie Abby loves you, Peanut. You were the best part of my Summer.

So, as we bid adieu to Summer and a hearty HELLO to Fall, I think maybe my perspective on what my Summer 2011 has slightly changed since I started writing this post. It was a life-changing 4 months that I will remember quite fondly. Even though I spent a good 50% of it indoors deriving equations and banging my head against the wooden table just to make the pain in my brain go away, I had all of these really great moments that more than made up for it. And really, when you look at where I’m headed next year, this Summer’s classes were just a stepping stone to my dreams so who the hell am I to complain?

I hope you had as memorable of a Summer as I did. What was your favorite part? Tell me all about it and remember, every moment here is better than none at all.

Now go out and run!