Now that we are into the racing season, with a lot more races to go, it is very important to make sure that we don’t get injured. Most runners think the most important muscles to focus on to improve performance and avoid injuries are the hamstrings, calves etc.. While those muscles are important, the one muscle that is the key in a runner’s health and performance is the gluteus medius.
The gluteus medius is attached below the top of the pelvic bone and the outside of the upper leg, this muscle’s action while running is to raise the upper leg to the side. But the most crucial motion is the resistant action (eccentric) of the gluteus medius to prevent the knee to collapse inward, which is the most critical role in the health of the hips, ankles and knees.
When a runner has a knee injury, too often physio therapists or doctors focus mainly on controlling inflammation, releasing the knee, icing it and advise to pull back on training. Most knee injuries or chronic knee pain is due to a continuous muscle failure happening in the muscular chain gait cycle. Understanding how the body works and the sequence of joint to joint chain cycle from the ankle to the hip when running, you will see the pattern of how important the gluteus medius is. For a perfect running form, the ankle is supposed to be mobile, the knee stable, the hip mobile, the lower back stable. If a runner is experiencing knee pain, the problem could be that one of the stable joints has become mobile, or a mobile joint has become too unstable (hypermobile). The joint above the knee is the hip, which should be mobile enough to absorb the forces from the foot strike. If the gluteus medius is too weak, the hip become hypermobile, then the hip is unable to absorb the force and instead will pass it to the knee or lower back.
One of the most common symptoms of a weak gluteus medius is a condition called Trendelenburg Gait. Trendelenburg Gait is a condition that happens when one foot hits the ground but the opposite hip with the foot off the ground drops. You can see that running form from behind when the hips drop side to side. The main issue with the hip drop is with the leg with the foot on the ground, you will see an inward collapse of the knee as the opposite hip drops. This motion will put a lot of pressure on the ACL ligament and alter the knee cap motion between the upper leg and lower leg. The result of the failure of the gluteus medius to control the inward collapse of the knee will produce other issues such as IT Band syndrome, one of the most common runner’s injury.
Training the gluteus medius by performing the proper exercises regularly will help prevent any knees injuries. The goal is to train the gluteus medius to resist the inward collapse of the knee. The key exercises are to be performed with a resistance band, such as Clams, Fire Hydrate, Lateral Walking Squats, as well as Single Leg Squats, Lunges. When performing these exercises, it is important to focus on proper form and motion. Perform 2-3 of these exercises 4-5 times per week rotating the exercises. Perform 3 sets of 10 -15 reps each. By taking care of your gluteus medius muscles you will not only see an increase in your performance, but also in injury prevention.
Train Hard, Eat Right, Feel Great!