“You don’t want to pull a hammy!”
I heard this phrase repeatedly growing up playing sports in Anchorage, AK. I never thought I would end up telling so many runners the same thing in Missoula, Montana.
This past season I have seen a fair amount of hamstring related injuries (the hamstring is the muscle in the back of your thigh). Injuries to the hamstring can vary along the muscle and be caused by different events. Examples of injuries I have seen are from sprinting and running downhill. Even though all the injuries and ways to injure have been different, there have been a couple underlying themes, one of them being…. (dramatic pause)……inactive gluteal muscles! These are the muscles that make up your backside and give your stride power and pelvis stability. Where the hamstring attaches, the main action of it is to bend the knee but it can also act to extend your hip and it helps to control your leg in downhill running. Sometimes with hamstring injuries the muscle is trying to do too much and other muscles (the gluteal group) are not coming on at right times to help it out.
While this may sound impossible it can happen, really. The muscles in your backside are really important, if they are not working correctly you lose a ton of power and stability!
I analyze running styles, test strength and examine movement and have found this often enough. After an evaluation of those factors, when I tell someone they have inactive gluteal muscles they look at me a little puzzled. What often follows is, “I strengthen those muscles all the time!” It is not as though the muscles in their backside are weak or not working at all, but they are not coming on at the right times in your stride to help out.
As I mentioned earlier, each case is different but there are a couple exercises that I have found helpful in getting your glutes (backside) to turn on. You can try them out and see what muscles you feel turn on. Do you feel your backside tense up or your upper leg tense up? How much does your back move?
Laying on your stomach with a thick pillow under your waist activate your core muscles to stabilize your back. Place your right hand on your right glute and your upper hamstring. Lift your right leg off the ground 1-2 inches to start. What do you feel turn on first and what is working hardest? If you have properly working backside, your bottom should tense of first and do the majority of the work. The upper hamstring will still come on, but it should not play a major role. If you feel nothing in your backside muscles, keep trying, you need those to turn on. Give it 10 reps. If you can do it correctly 30 reps is good. If you can do it laying down try it in standing, just don’t let your foot turn out; if you can do that then and a sports cord.
Bridges: Laying on your back with legs bent up and feet on the ground. Activate your core muscles and use your glutes to push your pelvis up. In this method the spine should move as a stiff unit and not roll. If you hamstrings cramp or your back feels pressure you glutes are not doing the work they should. If you feel cramping or pressure in your back stop. If you are able to feel the glutes activate try to do 20-30 in a row.
These are a great start to getting the glutes to turn on, giving power and stability to your running.
Hopefully the smoke clears soon and we can have some beautiful fall running weather. If you have questions on your running, Alpine Physical Therapy offers free 15 minute consults to the Run Wild Community and we enjoy getting to know our local runners!
Matt Schweitzer, DPT, OCS, CSCS
Alpine Physical Therapy Downtown, Located in the Peak Health and Wellness Center
150 E. Spruce St. Ste. A
Missoula, MT 59802