How To Address Tightness In The Hips To Help Improve Running Performance

 

Hello Runners,

In the three previous posts I have discussed strengthening the glute and outer hips muscles and activation of these muscles to significantly improve running performance and minimize the risk of injury.

However, it is difficult to fully engage the glutes and other muscles of the hips if they are significantly tight. There are different approaches to reducing this muscle tightness, including active isolated stretching and foam rolling. Click on the links to access videos to use these techniques.

Another useful technique, which can also be relaxing, is to use yoga poses. In fact, I use some of the poses, which I will discuss, on a daily basis. When performing yoga poses it is important to breathe naturally and not hold your breath. You should only progress to as far as comfortable, using props such as blocks as necessary to support your knees, hips, or arms. Also, you should hold poses only as long as comfortable. Don’t worry about holding for 30 or 60 seconds, for example. You may only be able to hold a pose for a few seconds when beginning. That’s okay. It’s more important that you are performing the pose properly.

So, here are a few yoga poses you can use to reduce tightness in the hips. Discontinue any of these poses that cause significant discomfort or pain.

Square pose

  • From a seated position, straighten your right leg out, and place your left ankle under your right knee
  • Bend the right leg (without moving the left and place the right foot in front of or on top of the left knee
  • Fold forward from the hips and allow your spine to round
  • Place your hands down, or rest on your elbows
  • Hold the pose for as long as feels comfortable
  • You are looking for sensations in the outer parts of the thighs, buttocks, hips and around the sacrum
  • To come out of the pose, lean back on your hands and straighten your legs
  • Repeat on the other side
  • Beginner tips:
    • If your knees stay high up, try sitting up on a cushion and place blocks or blankets under your knees.
    • Make sure you avoid any discomfort in your knees. If this occurs, try separating your knees further apart and supporting with blocks.
  • Variations:
    • Place a bolster across your legs to support your chest while folding over.
    • If the neck is sensitive, support your head with your hands by placing the elbows down. Use blocks or a bolster under the elbows if needed.
    • For deeper sensations, stack ankles and knees over each other. However, if your knees lift up, bring the shins back in front of each other.
    • You can bend sideways instead of folding forward to target the side body.
    • You can incorporate a gentle twist before coming out of the pose. Use your hands to slowly roll up, ground your sitting bones to find length in your spine and gently twist towards the side of your upper leg.
  • Here is a video demonstrating square pose:

https://www.google.com/search?q=square+pose+yin+yoga&rlz=1C1GCEV_en&oq=square+pose&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l7.6809j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8#kpvalbx=_KotdXvESy9X6BKCtkogB28

squarepose

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pigeon or deer pose

  • Pigeon pose
    • To begin, come onto your back with your knees bent and your thighs parallel and hip-distance apart. Next, cross your left ankle over your right thigh, making sure that your anklebone clears your thigh. Actively flex your front foot by pulling your toes back. When you do this, the center of your foot will line up with your kneecap rather than curving into a sickle shape, which can stress the ligaments of the ankle and the knee.
    • Maintaining this alignment, pull your right knee in toward your chest, thread your left arm through the triangle between your legs and clasp your hands around the back of your right leg. If you can hold in front of your shin without lifting your shoulders off the floor or rounding the upper back, do so; otherwise, keep your hands clasped around your hamstring or use a strap. The goal is to avoid creating tension in the neck and shoulders as you open the hips, so choose a position that keeps your upper body relaxed. As you draw your right leg in toward you (making sure to aim it toward your right shoulder and not the center of your chest), simultaneously press your left knee away from you. This combination of actions should provide ample sensation, but if you don’t feel much, try releasing your pubic bone down away from your navel toward the floor. This will bring a bit more curve into your lumbar and should deepen the hip stretch.
    • Boost Your Bird
    • This variation moves more in the direction of the final shape but uses blankets to help maintain alignment. Come onto all fours with your hands shoulder-distance apart and about a hand span in front of your shoulders. Bring your left knee forward and place it on the floor just behind and slightly to the left of your left wrist, with your shin on a diagonal and your left heel pointing toward your right frontal hipbone. Now bring your attention to your back leg: Your right quadriceps should squarely face the floor so that your leg is in a “neutral” position—you want to avoid the common pitfall of externally rotating the back leg. Establish this neutral leg by tucking your right toes under and straightening your right leg so that the thigh and knee come off the floor. Lift your right inner thigh up toward the ceiling and move your right frontal hipbone forward so that it is parallel to your left frontal hipbone. You want to have your hipbones square toward the front of the mat. As you roll your right hipbone forward, draw your left outer hip back and in toward the midline of your body. Its natural tendency will be to swing forward and out away from you.
    • When the hipbones are parallel in Pigeon, the sacrum is less likely to be torqued, and you can practice the pose without straining your low back. Maintaining this hip alignment, shimmy your right toes back slightly and then point them so that your right thigh releases to the floor. Move your left foot and shin toward the front of your mat, aiming for your shin to be parallel to the front edge, and flex your foot to protect your knee.
    • Now observe your left outer hip. If, after you square your hips, the area where your thigh and buttock meet doesn’t rest on the floor, you need to add a blanket or two underneath. This is crucial to practicing the pose safely. If the outer hip doesn’t have support, the body will fall to the left, making the hips uneven and distorting the sacrum. Or, if the hips stay square but your left hip is free floating, you’ll put too much weight and pressure on the front knee. Neither scenario is good!
    • Get Even
    • Instead, use your arms for support as you organize your lower body. Adjust so that your hipbones are parallel to the wall you’re facing and your sacrum is even (meaning one side hasn’t dipped closer to the floor than the other) and place however many blankets are necessary to maintain this alignment beneath your left outer hip.
    • Place your hands in front of your left shin and use your arms to keep your torso upright. For the final version, keep moving your left foot forward, working to make your left shin parallel to the front edge of your mat. Make sure that in doing so you maintain the alignment in your hips and sacrum, continuing to use blankets if necessary. The left leg will be in external rotation, the right leg in neutral—each position giving access to a different type of hip opening. The right leg will stretch the psoas and other hip flexors, and the left side will get into the group of rotators in the buttocks and outer hip
    • It’s common to experience intense sensations in the left hip as the femur rotates outward in the hip socket. (For many people, this is in the fleshy part of the buttock; for others, it’s along the inner thigh.) Some feel a stretch along the front of the right hip as the psoas lengthens. You do not, however, want to feel any sensations in your left knee. If you do, this variation is not for you! Return to Eye of the Needle, where you can safely open your hips without strain.
    • If your knee is sensation free (hooray!), extend your torso forward across your left shin, walking your arms out in front of you and releasing your forehead toward the floor. Fold forward only after you’ve spent time checking your alignment and paying attention to your body. Your left knee will be to the left of your torso (with the left thigh on a bit of a diagonal), and your flexed left foot will be just alongside the right side of your rib cage. As you fold forward, turn your attention inward. We tend to hold this version of Pigeon longer than more active postures, so see if part of your practice in this pose can be to stay mentally focused once you have settled in. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali defines practice as “effort toward steadiness.” In these extended, quieter holds, you get to explore this idea, tethering your sometimes scattered attention by following the breath as it moves in and out, finding stillness as you open and expand.
    • Video:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQMsyrLowFw

Pigeon Pose Yoga Benefits_19.jpg

  • Deer pose (less intense alternative to pigeon pose)
    • Foundation-Begin seated with your legs in front of you.
    • Action- Bend you right knee into half butterfly with the heel about a foot away from the pelvis, then place your left knee into the arch of the right foot. Bend the left knee until the foot is closer to ninety degrees from the knee towards the bottom. (The legs will look a bit like a pinwheel) Rotate the torso in the direction of the right knee and walk thee torso forward until it rests on a bolster, blanket, or your mat. The arms can relax out to the side like goalposts. Turn your head to the side.
    • Boundary- Keep upright in the seated twist if there are hip issues. Adjust the bend of the knees to your own degree of comfort.
    • While You are There: Relax the front of the torso towards the ground. Remain for as long as comfortable on each side
    • Modify- The easiest option is to stay seated as you twist. The level of bolster/ blanket height can be adjusted to the degree of flexibility. Turning your head in the same direction as the knees will be the more gentle option for the neck.
    • Deepen- Take the chest all the way to the floor to increase the rotation and lower hip compression/ upper hip stretch. Send your arm that is on the same side as your knees up overhead and stretch from the hip all the way through the fingers to add shoulder opening. Turning the head in the direction away from the knees will increase the stretch on the neck.
    • Transition out of the Pose: Place your hands on the ground and use that support to slowly return to seated. Then unwind the twist. It is nice sometimes to lean back on the arms, place the feet in front of you and windshield wiper the knees before taking the second side.
    • Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AAob8VDW_q4       

deerpose

 

 

 

 

Low lunge

  • Start in Downward Facing Dog pose
  • As you exhale, step your right foot forward, between your hands. Lower your left knee to the floor, sliding the foot back until you feel a nice stretch in the left hip and thigh.
  • Keep the hips low and level with each other.
  • As you inhale, engage your lower belly and lift your chest away from the thigh, sweeping the arms up alongside your ears.
  • Look straight ahead or come into a gentle backbend with your gaze to your thumbs.
  • As you exhale, lower your hands back down and step back to Downward Facing Dog.
  • Beginner tips:
    • You can keep your hands on the floor, blocks or your hips and work on the stretch in the front thigh.
    • Scissor your hips together to keep them level with each other and find stability.
    • Use a folded blanket to pad your back knee.
  • Video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aOfniMZY2hk

lowlungepose

 

 

 

 

 

Be aware that there are several variations of each of these poses and that you can use the ones that work best for you. I recommend incorporating yoga poses at least 3-4 days per week.

Please let me know if you have any questions, or if I can be of help in any way.

Your friend and coach,

Brian

References

https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/pigeon-pose

https://www.ekhartyoga.com/resources/yoga-poses/low-lunge

It’s All in the Hips (and Pelvis) Part 1: Hip Flexors

The April issue of Running Times include an article entitled “It’s All in the Hips”, which I felt contained useful information for runners at all levels, on improving running performance, and factors which can negatively affect running performance and potentially increase injury risk. The hips and the pelvis play very important roles in running, in fact I refer to the hips as the steering wheel to help us run effectively. Originally I planned to hilite and elaborate upon the important points of this article in one post. However, I soon realized this would result in a post that was much too long! So I will be sending out multiple posts hiliting the important points and elaborating upon these.

In this article, elite running coach Bobby McGee, who I’ve had the privilege of meeting and who has helped me as a runner and coach, states that the first issue that should be addressed to improve running performance is tight hip flexors. In fact, approximately 85% of runners have tightness in the hip flexors. Therefore this article will focus on the importance of hip flexors, what causes tight hip flexors, and what can be done to address this.

What are the hip flexors and what is their function during running?

• Muscles located on the front (anterior) and inside (medial) of the hip

• Includes the rectus femoris, iliopsoas, hip adductors (longus, brevis, and magnus), tensor fascia latae (TFL)

• Allow us to bend at the hips for such activities as sitting

• During running allow us to, both accelerate our thigh forward, or decelerate the thigh as it moves backward

What causes tight hip flexors?

•The primary cause is overuse of the hip flexors because they are constantly being contracted and shortened while we sit for hours at work, while driving, and during leisure time

• In addition, while sitting the glutes become deactivated and weakened, this will be discussed further in my next article

What are the potential issues related to tight hip flexors?

• Ideally the pelvis should be properly aligned (think of the pelvis as a cup of water, or your drink of choice, which we don’t want to spill by the pelvis tipping too far forward or back), which allows the hips to be more stacked under the torso. This allows you to increase power as your leg drive pushes your body forward (hip extension), rather than twisting your hips forward, arching your back and losing energy in the torqueing. Tight hip flexors will cause the pelvis to “spill forward” and reduce or inhibit the amount of hip extension.

• Low back pain, strains in the hamstring, quadriceps, and groin

• Knee issues such as patellar tendinopathy, patellar femoral syndrome

• IT band tendonitis

What can I do if I have tight hip flexors?

• There are several muscles that flex the hips and these should be foam rolled and stretched

• Ideally, foam roll hip flexors 4-6 days per week

• General guidelines for foam rolling:

• Roll on tight, overused muscles until a tender/sore spot is found

• Apply pressure to tender/sore spots and hold for 30 seconds

• Foam rolling exercises:

Rectus Femoris:

http://www.menshealth.co.uk/cm/menshealthuk/images/Lw/quadriceps.jpg

TFL:

http://stoneathleticmedicine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/TFL-Foam-Roll.jpg Hip adductors: http://icraved.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/foam-roll-adductor.jpg

• After foam rolling, stretch the hip flexor muscles. Hold each stretch for at least 20-30 seconds, perform 1-3 sets of each stretch.

• Hip flexor stretch:

– Kneel in the right knee, with the left knee bent and directly over the left

ankle

– Lean forward, shifting your body weight on to your front leg. You should

feel a stretch in the right leg.

– Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3 times

– Keep the back straight and abdominals tight. Do not allow the front knee to

pass over the toes.

– A folded towel can be placed under the knee on the floor for comfort

http://eplerhealth.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/hip-flexor-stretch.jpeg

• Yoga variation of hip flexor stretch – Kneeling lunge (Anjaneyasana) http://www.yogachuck.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Low-Lunge.jpeg

• Hip adductor or “butterfly” stretch: http://www.velogirls.com/resources/publications/stretching101/butterfly.jpg

• TFL Stretch:

http://hilloah.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/tfl-wall-stretch.jpeg

Please contact me with any questions or comments.

See you on the road or trail,

Brian

Tips on Running Form

When I’m going for an easy or recovery run I like to watch the running form of other runners. Although my own running form is not perfect and is something that I continue to work on improving, I often see ways in which running form could be improved in the runners I observe. So I wanted to share some tips on running form that could be beneficial to improve running efficiency and help minimize fatigue and injury.

1. Running tall – When you run your abdominal muscles, especially the transverse abdominus, should not be on vacation. These muscles should help you in maintaining proper posture and alignment while you run. When you run your abdominal muscles and stomach should be pulled in (your can check this by putting your index finger on your umbilicus or belly button).

Exercises that can help strengthen the abdominal muscles to help maintain proper posture and alignment include prone planks (up position of a regular pushup resting on your hands or forearms), side planks, and supine planks (start by lying on your back and then raise up on your elbows) See the beginning of this video. These exercises are designated as part of the pedestal routine. Hold each position until fatigue (probably 20-90 seconds).

Advanced: While still remaining tall, add a slight forward lean from the ankles.  This will create a falling forward motion using gravity to pull you forward.  I categorize this as advanced because it can be difficult to maintain the forward lean from the ankles only.  The lean should not be from the waist.

2. Relaxed shoulders – The shoulders should not be hunched up when you run, nor should they be rounded forward. When running trying to keep your shoulder blades pinched together.

Exercises that can help include Y, T, and I in which you lie on your stomach and raise your arms a couple of inches off the floor with thumbs pointing up as your body forms either a Y, T, or I. Make sure that you keep your neck in neutral or normal alignment.

3. Appropriately using the arms – When running the arms should be bent at the elbow at approximately a 90-degree angle with the hands lightly cupped and the thumb gently resting on the index finger. The arms should swing so that the hands brush the top of the hips or the pockets of your shorts (if they have pockets) at the bottom of the arm swing and the hands should be in line with the nipples at the top of the arm swing. Be sure that your hands don’t cross the midline of your body or you will experience twisting of the hips, which can lead to injury.  Also, you should focus on the backswing of the arms, instead of focusing on swinging forward.

4. Short strides with a cadence of approximately 180 steps/minute – Your feet should land under the center of mass of your body. If your foot lands too far forward you will heel strike, which creates a significant amount of force and stress on the ankle, knee, and hip joints, thus increasing the chance of injury. Landing on the forefoot can cause stress fractures in the metatarsals. Meanwhile, landing on the midfoot is beneficial because there are several layers of tissue for cushioning as the foot impacts the ground. Taking short strides with a high cadence will help promote landing on the midfoot.

5. Heel and knee lift – There are a lot of runners that I see who shuffle their feet or who have minimal heel and knee lift. These runners could benefit by activating more muscles, especially the knee extensor, glutes, and hamstring muscles to increase running efficiency and speed.  You should exert force (push down) with the front leg and foot from where the knee is at it’s highest point to when it impacts the ground.  This will create an elastic rebound as the foot hits the ground and will cause the heel to raise up towards the glutes.  This will also cause the knee to be lifted as this leg comes forward.  This elastic rebound reduces the demand on muscles and protects the legs from shock.

These are some of the areas that I evaluate when I perform stride analyses for runners that I coach. In many cases, I can tell visually if adjustments need to be made. I also use videotaping to identify additional areas that could be adjusted to improve running form. I would recommend a stride analysis with a physical therapist, biomechanist or experienced coach to help make your stride more efficient and help minimize the risk of injury. Also, the results of a stride analysis and additional assessments may indicate that there are muscles that need to be strengthened, or muscles whose flexibility needs to be increased to improve running form.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions that you have. I would love to hear form you!

See you on the road or trial.

Brian

General Guidelines for Preparing for Race Goal

Recently I was finishing up one of my long runs and started stretching. As I was stretching I overheard someone speaking with a friend of his about doing a marathon in the fall. I’m not into eavesdropping, but my ears perked up when he mentioned doing a marathon. She asked him what type of training program he was going to follow. His response was that he was basically going to “wing it”. Now there is a recipe for disaster!

So in this week’s blog I want to talk about the need for a plan to get to your running goals. Basically, you can’t just “wing it” if you want to be at your best on race day and avoid injuries.

Last time I mentioned setting realistic goals. This is your first step. Then you have to figure out how you are going to get there. Below are things you need to consider. For many of these I have just given some basic guidelines, which I will provide more detail on later either on this website or if you attend my workshops or if I work with you as a coach.

1. Proper shoes – If you are new to running or haven’t run in a while, I highly recommend getting fitted at a reputable running store. Make sure that the person who does your fitting is knowledgeable. You may want to ask running friends about this or you can ask the manager and/or owner of the store about shoe fitting. They should put you on a treadmill and videotape your stride as you run on the treadmill. They should be looking at how your foot strikes. They should also be finding out the type of arch you have (high, normal, flat). They should be measuring your foot length and width. When you do the fitting make sure you are wearing socks that you would run in. Also if you wear orthotics make sure you try on shoes with these. The salesperson should have you try on at least three pairs and at least two different brands. Walk around in these shoes and if possible see if you can run with them either on a treadmill in the store or better yet outside. It can be difficult to determine how comfortable the shoes will be while you are at the store, so make sure you find out about the store’s return policy. Also I would recommend getting a second pair, if not on that day, soon after. If you are really happy with that model pick up a second pair. Or you may want to go with another brand that you tried on which is similar. The problem with running shoes is that models don’t stay around for long. Running shoe manufacturers are constantly changing and discontinuing models. Sometimes the changes are beneficial; sometimes they are not.

2. Proper nutrition – Typically the recommendation for adults is approximately 55% of calories from carbohydrates, with almost all of these as complex carbohydrates (fruits, vegetables, and whole grains), approximately 25-30% of calories as fats, with less than 10% of calories from saturated fats, and 10-15% of calories from proteins. For runners and other endurance athletes the percentage of total calories which are carbohydrate should be even greater, such as 60% or more. That means less calories from fat. My recommendation is to spread out your calorie intake throughout the day so that you are eating about every 2-3 hours. Also drink plenty of water. My recommendation is to divide your body weight in pounds by 2 and number is the amount of water in ounces you should take in each day, as a minimum.

3. Periodized plan – To get to your goal you will need to have a periodized program. If your goal is to complete a half marathon and you are just getting into running you are not going to just go out and run 13 miles. You have to build up to this in the proper way. Typically, your training should be divided into phases that will target certain aspects of your cardiovascular and energy systems, as well as muscles, to best get you to your goal and avoid injury.

4. Strength training and flexibility – Injuries are very common among runners. Approximately 70-80 percent of runners incur at least one injury each year that causes them to stop running for a significant period of time. Wow! Many of these injuries are due to muscle weaknesses/imbalances and poor flexibility. Therefore, for all runners there needs to be exercises done to address muscle weaknesses/imbalances and in addition, stretches need to be performed improve flexibility at the hip, knee, ankle, and shoulder joints to maximize performance and reduce injury risk. Core strengthening, of muscles including the hips, abdominals, and lower back is very important for runners.

5. Cross-training – To get better at running you need to run. But running alone can take its toll on the body. So it is important to incorporate cross-training once or twice a week. This would include biking, swimming, inline skating, etc. This will help to maintain your fitness level, but work some of your other muscles. It may be necessary to result solely on cross-training if you develop an injury that prevents you from running.

6. Support – We all need a support system, whether it is from family, friends, running clubs, etc. or more likely a combination of these. Preparation for your first half or full marathon is not easy and workouts sometimes don’t go as planned. Plus, we all have other commitments in life. Therefore, having a support network can play a vital role in our success in attaining our running goals.

7. A schedule – Based on our busy lives we have to determine how much time and what times we have available to devote to training. Typically, I schedule my workouts just like I would a dentist or doctor appointment. That way I can commit that time for my workout. So I highly recommend that you sit down and map out what days and what times you are going to have available to train.

8. Pacing – This can be difficult to do, but it is very important in races, so that you don’t fatigue too early.

9. A coach – I know I’m biased with this one. However, I strongly recommend a coach. They have been through this process of planning to achieve goals in races and can help you get to your goals, so that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I know there are lots of online programs that you can get for free; however, keep in mind that these are very generic. The person who came up with these programs doesn’t know you. They have no idea what your fitness level and goals are, and certainly won’t know your schedule or any muscle weaknesses and areas where you lack flexibility. Only a coach who can work one-on-one with you will be able to determine these and design a customized program that will be best for you.

Stay tuned for more information which pertains to those points. I will be starting a series of blogs which includes strengthening exercises and stretches.

Until next time… see you on the road (or trail)