Sunday, April 22, 2012

Does my butt look FLAT in the shorts?: Running, weak glutes, and injury

I wouldn't say this if we weren't all a bunch of runners here. I am not proud of it, but here it is: I have weak glutes. I know what you are probably thinking. "Oh how sad. I never would have guessed.  She hides it well." I know, but it is true. Apparently not only has the rest of my body known for a long time, but it has been compensating and covering it up until finally it had enough. My body staged a glute intervention.

I was totally shocked. I always thought that my lower abs were the slackers in the group. I mean every time I checked, they seemed to be the ones that were hanging around looking kind of flabby. I was probably partly deceived by the compression shorts, which hide a multitude of sins, but also truthfully, I was not really watching the glutes. I mean, they usually lurk back there out of sight and always seemed to be behaving when I bothered to check on them. How was I to know that when I wasn't looking they were apparently guzzling beer, eating powdered donuts, and watching Nickelodeon reruns on television while the rest of us were out there trying to run.

I didn't always have this problem. In fact, I used to have strong hard-working glutes. I know because before I started running (many, many years ago), I had done several years of serious weight training. If I remember correctly, I think I was squatting and leg pressing somewhere around one and a half times my body weight. I am pretty sure my glutes were not lazing around back then. However, obviously at some point, they decided that they just weren't that into the whole running thing.  

Actually I think what happened is that I gave them the wrong impression about their importance in my life. You see most of the time (pretty much the entire day except when I am running), I sit. I just tell those glutes that they really aren't needed, put them on a cushy recliner (yes, with my new laptop, and since the spleen recovery, I do most of my work in a recliner -- I don't even bother with the office chair anymore), and pretty much ignore them. I guess the running just wasn't doing it for them and keeping them stimulated. I mean they are big muscles, meant for activity. I guess like big dogs, they just need more exercise.

Dr. Tom:
Banisher of the weak glutes
Well, as most of you know, the upshot of all this is that I am injured. I went to a very knowledgeable chiropractor and active release guy who immediately spotted the problem. His name is Dr. Tom Livermore, and he is a runner (He did the Lansing marathon today as a training run in  3:41, even with stopping to talk to his patients along the way  -- Go Dr. Tom!!). If any of you have running injuries and live in Lansing, he is the guy to see in my book. Here is how he explained the problem to me (well not exactly, I took a little poetic license):.

When the glutes gave out, the quads started compensating. When they got tired of doing all the work, they turned it over to the tensor fascia lata (TFL), which apparently is a little pip squeak of a muscle that is not supposed to be doing heavy duty work. It started tugging on the IT band, who ultimately decided to blow the whistle on the whole scheme, which it did at Green Swamp. It did give me a few warnings earlier in the season, but I didn't listen.  You know how that whole denial thing is. Plus, I didn't really think it was anything serious. I really just thought my IT band was being a bit of a baby about the whole thing. I had no idea the quads and TFL were involved. In fact, I never even knew I had a TFL.

When I think about it, though, the warning signs were probably there long before I  had a problem. For the last several years, even when I was aerobically fit and running fast, I felt weak. In fact, several times I mentioned that I just "didn't feel strong" when I was out there running. I would weight train sporadically at those times, maybe start to feel a little better, and then stop and go back to more running. In hindsight, that was not a good plan.

So now that I know what is going on back there, it is time for heavy rehab. First Dr. Tom prescribed therapy for the poor stressed out quads and the poor little TFL. In addition to their sessions with Dr. Tom, they required many sessions with the foam roller to deal with the trauma of being overworked for so long. There were a lot of tears involved in that therapy, let me tell you.

Now, it is on to those lazy glutes. This is a little tougher. You know what they say. Change doesn't come unless you really want it. Well, truthfully, I don't think the glutes are sold on this whole change thing. I think they like being lazy. This is going to be a long term process to change their habits. Unfortunately the process will be hindered because they still have to spend several hours a day around those bad influences, the office chair and recliner. 

Again Dr. Tom came to the rescue with a series of exercises for me to do to work on the buns. These include the famous clam, with resistance bands, as well as bridges, and side steps with resistance. More, of course, will be forthcoming as I continue to work on the problem.  

In addition, I have added a few exercises of my own. They came from the book Brain Training  for Runners, which is one of my favorite new books on training right now. It is about the physiological (rather than psychological) connection between the brain and body in running. It is a little heavy on the physiology for some people, but incredibly interesting. The author, Matt Fitzgerald, is big on stressing the importance of strengthening the glutes, deep abdominals, and hip stabilizers in his programs. Unlike many running training programs, his running programs prescribe a minimum of two training workouts a week for these muscles. His programs also involve a graduated strengthening program for the muscles that help make sure that the strength training progresses just as the run training does. While I am not following his running training program for my next marathon, I am planning to incorporate his strengthening exercises into my program.

Finally, because I am a little "off," as I will gladly admit, I have also added an oldie but goodie to my workout. I dragged out a copy of the old Buns of Steel workout. Yes, that original classic from the '80s, with the big hair, bright exercise clothes, and cheesy commentary from Greg Smithey (who, by the way, used to be a pole vaulter, which is kind of connected to running...). I have put that in the rotation for days when my buns just don't feel like Dr. Tom's serious workout and  need a little laugh therapy. There is nothing like giggling at the campy 80s video to help get your buns through the burn.  (But don't tell Dr. Tom!)

What does this all mean to you? Well, this is a cautionary tale. You may be running along down the road assuming that your glutes are back there working away when really they are on a vacay to the Bahamas. I mean, do you really know what they are doing back there while you are checking out the scenery? If you have not been keeping an eye on your glutes, you might want to start. You also might want to start working a few glute exercises into your running routine. If not, you may want to bookmark, Dr. Tom's site. Chances are good if you don't take care of your glutes, that there may be a running injury in your future. 

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