Hello, Run With Gina readers! I am super excited to be heading off to Portland, Oregon for a gait specialist class. This will be an awesome opportunity for me to gain the skillset to perform running gait evaluations through an effective, systematic, and evidence-based clinical approach that can be readily put into practice with those that use my coaching services towards the goal of my brand; to reduce injury potential and increase performance potential in the marathon running community.
In preparing for my class, I have been brushing up on my functional anatomy. If you have followed my blog posts, then you know I am no stranger to functional anatomy. Even with the knowledge I have been blessed to obtain, while studying for my upcoming course, I had some ah-ha moments that I knew I needed to share with the running community, especially those that hit the gym along with their run training.
In my “Powering through with your arms” blog post, I mentioned that sometimes we have muscle imbalances from activities of daily living or from pattern overload from our hobbies, including resistance training. At one time in my life I was a run of the mill gym junkie and as I mentioned in the arms blog post, sometimes what we do to try to enhance our fitness outside of running, may impair our running, such as unknowingly using gym equipment that we think is benefiting musculature, but really isn’t and is contributing to already existing poor movement patterns. In the current blog post cover photo, you see pictures of three common exercises you may have done or have seen others doing in the gym; lateral flexion with dumbbells, Roman chair leg raises, and the seated hip abduction machine. Additionally, there is an illustration of a pelvis in an anterior pelvic tilt. Anterior pelvic tilt is a common muscle imbalance in a society of people that sit and commute to work, only to sit down all day at work, then sit on a commute home, sit and eat dinner, and then sit and chill on the couch during a Netflix binge.
What exactly is happening in an anterior pelvic tilt? The iliacus and psoas (iliopsoas) sometimes simply and improperly referred to as “the hip flexors” are tight, in a shortened position. By the way, there are eight other muscles that contribute to hip flexion. Also, tight, in a shortened position in an anterior pelvic tilt are tight erector spinae muscles that may contribute to low back pain along with a weak gluteus maximus and abdominal muscles. Exercise selection for someone with an anterior pelvic tilt needs to be properly planned and the images of the common gym exercises above are horrible options for someone in an anterior pelvic tilt, nor do they accomplish what the gym user is trying to accomplish and will be picked apart below.
Lateral flexion with dumbbells: This exercise is common for someone that is trying to “work their core”. The muscles involved in this exercise are the quadratus lumborum and the internal/external oblique muscles. These muscles go from the ribs to the pelvis or other structures that directly contact the pelvis. Does it make sense to do a weighted flexion towards something that is out of alignment in the first place? I don’t think so. During functional movements, walking or running, will you ever be standing in place and flexing to the side? I don’t think so. Were these muscles highlighted in my, “Getting to the core of core training” blog post? Yes, they were and what was not on the list of exercises to strengthen the external and internal obliques? Lateral flexion with dumbbells was not on the list. Not a great exercise and back in the day I did them before I knew any better.
Roman chair leg raises: Just like the lateral flexion with dumbbells, this is an exercise people do to “work their core” or lower abdominals. Again, this is a horrible exercise for many in our society with an anterior pelvic tilt. Does it make sense to do repeated hip flexion movements when the muscles that do the motion of hip flexion are in a tight, shortened position? No, it doesn’t, it only contributes to the problem. That said, this exercise was not on the list of core exercises either. Yep, I am guilty of doing this exercise too before I knew better.
Seated hip abduction machine: Mercy! This one makes my blood boil. This machine in the gym claims to strengthen the “outer thigh”. Really, what is that? The muscles anatomically located on the outer thigh would be a small section of the tensor fascia latae, which is an abductor muscle so it is activated on this machine. But this muscle has a propensity to be tight/overactive in runners and I called this muscle out in my, “PFPS and ITBS, WTF” blog post as the true culprit in what people believe to be iliotibial band syndrome, so why does a runner need to be strengthening an already tight structure? She doesn’t. The other muscle located 100% on the “outer thigh” is the vastus lateralis muscle, but that guy is buried under the iliotibial band for starters and more important, it doesn’t create the action of hip abduction as this machine is doing…it creates the action of knee extension. How is this muscle being strengthened on this machine if the person is seated in a chair in knee flexion, when its function is knee extension? It’s not. There are many other muscles that contribute to hip abduction that this machine may be strengthening, but none are located on the outer thigh. However, the prime mover for someone in horizontal (femur) abduction, which is the seated position on this machine, is the piriformis muscle. You can read about that little guy in my, “Why do I have a pain in the butt? The pesky piriformis” blog post. Once again, this machine is working a muscle that has a propensity to be tight! You don’t strengthen tight muscles folks, you release and stretch tight muscles. I used to hit up this machine too, as did most females in the gym looking to get slender and/or more toned leg muscles. We were bamboozled!
Sorry for going off here, but did you notice I mentioned four of my previous blog posts? If you haven’t read all my blog posts, hop to it because the info I share is not only valuable, but is free to read for crying out loud. Free! Everyone’s favorite four lettered word. Have friends that can benefit from me and my knowledge that aren’t on Facebook, send them to runwithgina.com. Becoming a more efficient, faster runner doesn’t happen just by throwing one leg out in front of the other repeatedly. It doesn’t happen from a lot of speed work. It doesn’t happen from constantly fatiguing yourself. It happens by understanding how the body works from head to toe, inside and out, metabolically, physiologically, and functionally. Making the most of your efforts on the road, trail, treadmill, and even the gym by training smarter, not harder is how you achieve your best as a runner. That’s what I’m talking about! Are you ready to be the best marathon runner you can be? Hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out what your true potential is.