Glutes: Linear and Rotational Training

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I’ve had a lightbulb moment thanks to an Instagram post by Brett “the Glute Guy” Contreras, PhD. (I wish I’d saved the post. Now I can’t find it… Oh well.) He described training the glutes in both a linear and rotational fashion. This makes sense when considering the alignment of the muscle fibers of the glute muscles with the glute max being the best example. The fibers are diagonal which means they can exert force both both in a straight line and in rotation.

The gluteus maximus fibers facilitate both sagittal plane and transverse plane movement.

 

I’ve long used exercises that train the glutes linearly: squats, lunges, and deadlifts for example. And now I recognize that I’ve only scratched the surface or paid lip service to the rotational ability of the glutes. I’ve gained a new appreciation for some exercises that long avoided, such as the clamshell.

I’ve been doing more clamshells in my own workouts to help address some of the faulty foot mechanics that led to some recent toe pain. The glutes play a powerful role in controlling how the feet move and I believe clamshells and other rotational glute exercises have helped me.

Linear exercises

Rotational exercises

  • Clamshells
  • Lateral band walks
  • Hip airplanes
  • Lunges with rotation
  • Single-leg tube rotation

Anti-rotation exercises

These exercises impose a load on the body that will try to rotate you. Your job is to resist the rotational forces. These are really whole-body exercises but the glutes are definitely involved.

Exercise wisdom

In almost 20 years of training, I’ve thrown many babies out with some bathwater. I’ve fallen for dogma and rejected certain exercises because I thought they weren’t “functional” or had no carryover to life outside the gym. The clamshell exercise is one example. Who needs to have strong hips while lying down sideways? What use is that, especially to athletes?

It’s a relief to discover that very smart exercise professionals have had a similar experience. Physiotherpist, chiropractor, and pain expert Greg Lehman said this about the clamshell as it pertained to runners:

“I used to abhor the clamshell.  Then I started testing more runners with the clamshell. A number who tested strong in many positions would tremble during the clamshell.  Crazy, they had a lovely one leg squat, strong hip abduction but had trouble with 10 or 15 clamshells.  What does that tell me?  Such a massive deficit in function.  Would you suggest clamshells here or something to address that specific movement?  This seems like a case where I would suggest clamshells.  If a runner can’t do them I would want to address that deficit.

“But, do I want to see every runner doing them as part of a ‘functional’ program. Of course not.  They suck for that.  This is a case where the exercise prescription is ‘functional’ because it addresses a specific limitation in a specific runner.”

The clamshell is also recommended by physical therapist, and running/cycling coach Jay Dicharry.

I’ve returned to various exercises with a new appreciation. I hope that as I age and gain experience that I also gain wisdom. I must remember to maintain some skepticism about just about everything. At the same time, I should be willing to revisit what I think I know and reevaluate my thoughts.

Injury, A Sick Dog, & Getting Through a Bad Experience

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I call it the 24-hour rule… which is that after a big success or a bad failure, give yourself 24–48 hours to celebrate the success or grieve the defeat. But then, get back to doing the work itself.

The longer that you stew in a loss or ride the dopamine high of a win, the more you are becoming addicted to that. Whereas if you go back to doing the work itself, it’s a very embodied way of reminding yourself that, Hey, what I really like is the activity, not all the fortune, fame, external validation from the activity.”

That is sage advice from Brad Stulberg, author of Peak Performance and The Passion Paradox. I’ll return to it soon.

The past couple of weeks have been full of emotional highs and lows, frustration, elation, anger, and gratitude. I’m pleased that I came out feeling good in the end despite some disappointment. The big picture is this: I was unable to run the Grand Traverse Run on 8/31.

One week out – Toe pain

Metatarsalgia, aka ball-of-foot pain, roared to life exactly one week plus one day prior to the race. I’d had this in the past but hadn’t felt it in over a year. It was during an interval run. It wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The pain typically subsides quickly but this time it didn’t. Anger/panic set in.

The 40.7 miles of high mountain running was already intimidating. My prior long race was a trail marathon at 26.2 mi. This was almost 15 mi. longer and it topped out at 12,000 ft. of elevation. I was staring into the unknown. Now, on top of it, a true painful problem was ominous. I was genuinely worried, not just nervous. This was the 2nd year in a row that an injury threatened to derail this deeply meaningful project. All the hard work I’d put in might be for nothing.

I scheduled time with a physical therapist. She assessed some surprising weakness in my hip abductors, specifically the glute medius. That muscle contributes significantly to foot posture. Her assessment gave me valuable information on how to address a weakness in my running but that solution would take time, weeks or months. I had to race in just a few days.

I also met with Dr. Nick Studholme at Studholme Chiropractic in Denver. He’s helped me in the past. He taped my feet to unload the area under the 2nd toe. This wasn’t a fix, but something to help me get through the race. Unfortunately, a short test run the day after the taping wasn’t good. My foot still hurt a lot. I was despondent.

Finally, I had a cortisone shot. I am not a fan of cortisone. The long-term effects of too much cortisone aren’t good. Cortisone is definitely not a fix, but rather a powerful band-aid. For my purposes in this situation, cortisone was exactly what I needed. It was time to run. I would deal with the injury later.

Fast-forward to the day before the race: I felt good. I had no foot pain. We were in Crested Butte and I felt positive. In the course of a week, I’d gone from despondent to optimistic.

A sick dog, a super wife, & damn you Google

Race time was 6 am. I would get up at 4:15 am to get ready. My wife and our dog, Diva, would make the 3+ hour drive to Aspen and meet me at the finish. We all needed rest.

Diva started a hacking cough/dry heave Friday afternoon as we checked into our hotel. We didn’t know why. Dogs do this some time. She gobbled grass. Lots of it. This also happens sometimes. She finally threw up. Typically that’s the end of the story but not this time. She kept hacking. Constantly. We figured it would stop any time. It didn’t. This kept on into the night. Diva paced and coughed, coughed and paced. No one slept.

Finally, around 11 pm, my wife got online and found two 24 hr vets in Gunnison, about 30 miles away. She would take our dog and let me sleep. A super wife! Time ticked away rapidly. Race time was racing my way. I slept.

I woke up, middle of the night. They hadn’t returned They came in a little while later. Both 24-hour vets were closed. Google lied! Our dog was still sick but not worse. The prospect of racing was slipping away. My wife was seriously sleep deprived. Driving would be unsafe. We thought our dog probably needed a vet visit. I hadn’t had much more sleep. The reality of the situation dawned and it was clear I couldn’t race. I didn’t have words for this defeat. Rotten, bloody hell… Nothing else to do.

We headed home. Diva continued to improve. My wife and I had good conversation on the way back. No strife.

The rollercoaster continues

I’d built all this fitness so why waste it? I registered for the Sage Burner 55k in Gunnison at the end of October. We’ve only passed through Gunnison and never spent time there. Though this race didn’t have the epic appeal of the Grand Traverse, I was very happy and excited to run it and to spend time in Gunnison. More despair was around the corner though.

Sunday, the day after the race, I ran with the Denver Trail Runners at Gorgeous Kenosha Pass. It was a perfect, bright, cool day. No crowds on the trail. Three miles in the toe pain returns, just like before. I’m crushed, furious. No sense in running further, I’ll just hurt it more, I turned around and headed back to the trailhead.

On the return, I started to play with how my foot hits the ground and how I push off. I biased heavily to the outside of the foot. Not that I’m walked with my foot completely inverted but I deliberately created more pressure and more pushed through the outside of the foot. The pain decreased. I started jogging with this outside bias. Pain decreased more. I ran back to the parking area with virtually no pain. I turned around and ran back out to meet the group on the return. I finished having run just shy of 13 miles. Greatness! This was the polar opposite of missing the race. Another occasion where words don’t work to describe the feelings! Spectacular! I felt like this:

WAAAHOOOO!

Gratitude & no whining

Hard times and defeat always provide a learning opportunity. I can’t decide how I feel but I can decide how I react to those feelings. The pain of missing this race for the 2nd year in a row was powerful. Made me sick to my stomach. How could I react? Pout, gripe, and rage? Did my wife need to hear repeatedly how bad I felt, even though she already knew? Would complaining change the past? Nonsense nonsense nonsense! Complaining about something over which I have no control is a waste of energy and it may even be bad for my mental health. It’s bulls%it, to put it another way.

I did grieve the race though. I spent about 24 hrs feeling the disappointment. I felt sad and incredibly frustrated. There was no use in ignoring those feelings. But griping and whining had no place in the process. It was time to get back to work in preparation for the Sage Burner. My coach, Andrew Simmons of Lifelong Endurance has been a tremendous help. He’ll be guiding me for another couple of months.

There was a time in my life when I felt like my life was lacking a lot of things. I fixated on my failings and what I didn’t have. That wasn’t useful. Now I try to be grateful for the multitude of good people and things in my life. Specifically, in this case, I was and am grateful for the following: grateful that Diva got well; grateful for my wife who supported my efforts; hugely grateful for that good Sunday trail run during which my foot felt bad and then good; grateful for my friends, clients, and family who donated to NRDC (You can still donate btw!); grateful for being a trail runner with the chance to do something few people will ever imagine.

Everything isn’t always perfect, but most things are pretty good.

 

 

8 Ways to Improve Your Running Posture

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The position of the trunk and hips is critical for efficient, healthy running.

I’m pleased to share 8 Ways to Improve Your Running Posture, my latest article in Podium Runner. Running posture is vital for effective, healthy running. This article teaches you to mobilize joints that may inhibit good posture, and how to strengthen key muscles that reinforce good posture and make for stronger running. Here’s an excerpt:

Running is clearly a lower-body dominant activity. That said, you should understand that your body is an interconnected system more than it is a collection of parts. Running involves your entire body, from head to toes. That means your running posture—the position in which you hold your hips and spine while running—matters.

Optimal running posture is:

  • Comfortable: Able to run hard without pain.
  • Efficient: Use the least energy required for a given pace.
  • Minimally stressful: Forces generated by impact and propulsion are distributed evenly throughout your bones, muscles, and connective tissues.

Read the rest of the article, 8 Ways to Improve Your Running Posture.

Which Comes First, Motivation or Action?

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… this is basically Newton’s First Law applied to habit formation: Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Once a task has begun, it is easier to continue moving it forward.

– James Clear

An important task stares us in the face. We vegetate and pray for supernatural intervention to either complete the task or remove it from existence. We know the task is important to our health and wellbeing. But our emotions undermine us and we avoid the gym, delay meeting with a financial planner, or avoid scheduling an appointment with a doctor or mental health counselor. Or we just hope the lawn will mow itself.

The search for motivation is common to everyone. I’ve spent weeks at a time not posing on this blog but knowing that if I want to be a writer then I must write. The dread and self-loathing builds… I may long to improve my physique and drop some body fat, yet I eat the same: I love a cocktail and some dessert—and those flabby trouble spots refuse to budge! Grrrrr! The inconvenience of it all!

We believe that Motivation, a gleaming white stallion, will gallop in from nowhere and carry us effortlessly to meaningful action—but that doesn’t happen. So there we sit, pining for that magic horse. We got it wrong. Action breeds motivation.

The hardest part is the start. Once you start, it’s easier to keep going.

If we take a small step and find just a little bit of success, then we tend to want to see more success so we take further action. Several writers have discussed the action-creates-motivation dynamic.

Brad Stulberg writing in Outside Online discuses the dip in motivation during the pursuit of a goal:

“But then, when the first rough patch inevitably hits, motivation dwindles. This is when you decide to sleep in on winter mornings instead of go for a run (failed exercise plan), eat carrot cake at 11 p.m. (failed diet), or ignore your romantic partner when they tell you about their day (failed relationship goals). Even though you still want to accomplish your objectives, you may stop caring as much about them. And yet if you force yourself to show up, to take action—do the run, skip the cake, be present for your partner—and if you do this consistently, a strange thing starts to happen: Your motivation increases.”

Dr. Rubin Khoddam writes in Psychology Today explains how taking committed or valued action leads to more motivation to take more action:

“Let me give you a basic example. Have you ever felt like just staying at home and watching TV and not motivated at all to go to the gym? Yeah, me too. BUT, have you also ever noticed that you sometimes went to the gym and not only felt better about yourself but were more motivated to go back again later. That is because motivation does not precede action, action precedes motivation.

“I don’t just mean any action. I mean committed action. Valued action. What is valued action? Valued actions are actions that are consistent with your values in life. These are actions that are consistent with the type of person you want to be. I value staying healthy, so I set a goal for myself to go to exercise at least 4 days a week. My valued action is getting my butt up and going to the gym regardless of whether I am in the mood or not.”

James Clear has written an extensive article on motivation. He discusses common misconceptions about motivation:

“Motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it. Getting started, even in very small ways, is a form of active inspiration that naturally produces momentum.

“You don’t need much motivation once you’ve started a behavior. Nearly all of the friction in a task is at the beginning. After you start, progress occurs more naturally. In other words, it is often easier to finish a task than it was to start it in the first place.

“Thus, one of the keys to getting motivated is to make it easy to start.

Clear also discusses the power of the Goldilocks Rule to stay motivated over the long haul:

“Human beings love challenges, but only if they are within the optimal zone of difficulty. Tasks that are significantly below your current abilities are boring. Tasks that are significantly beyond your current abilities are discouraging. But tasks that are right on the border of success and failure are incredibly motivating to our human brains. We want nothing more than to master a skill just beyond our current horizon.

“We can call this phenomenon The Goldilocks Rule. The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

Each of these articles mentions physcial movement as a part of motivation. Sitting still saps our motivation. Movement generates motivation. Get up. Move around. Do something that moves you forward, even if it’s just one step. The motivation will follow your action.

Intuitive Eating

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Diet is the word “die” with a “t” on the end.

I’ve spoken highly of Jason Fitzgerald’s Strength Running podcast. I’ve been listening to past episodes and I just finished Episode 58: Superfoods, Veganism & Fasting: A Registered Dietitian’s Perspective. He interviews Heather Caplan, RD and she gave informative views on diets, veganism, meat, and fasting among other subjects. She also discussed her experience with the eating disorder known as orthorexia or the unhealthy preoccupation with eating healthy food.

I found Caplan’s discussion of dieting vs something called Intuitive Eating most interesting. Intuitive Eating isn’t a diet but rather a thought process and a way of relating to food in a healthy, non-restrictive way. Fitzgerald related diets and Intuitive Eating to a proverb you may have heard: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Caplan suggested that dieting means giving control to someone or something else (the diet) whereas Intuitive Eating bestows agency on the individual. Intuitive Eating means respecting one’s own feelings around food like hunger, satiety, and enjoyment. Intuitive Eating gives permission and doesn’t restrict. To me, Intuitive Eating is a healthy way out of the self-loathing and negative relationship with food experienced by so many people. The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating are:

  1. Reject the diet mentality.
  2. Honor your hunger.
  3. Make peace with food.
  4. Challenge the food police.
  5. Respect your fullness.
  6. Discover the satisfaction factor.
  7. Honor your feelings without using food.
  8. Respect your body.
  9. Exercise – Feel the difference.
  10. Honor your health.

Listen to the full podcast for more information.

Running Out of Time to Donate

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The Grand Traverse Run is August 31 which means I have a little bit of time to raise a few more bucks for the Natural Resources Defense Council. You may have already donated and if you have then I thank you. If you’re seeing this for the first time and you’d like to help out a good organization doing good work then please follow this link where you can donate. Much thanks!

Training Errors & Three Toos

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The three twos: Too much, too fast, too soon.

Lately, I’ve been listening to Jason Fitzgerald’s Strength Running podcast. As the name implies, his show discusses

Running too much, too fast, too soon is a recipe for injury.

strength training for runners. I think it’s excellent and full of useful information. If you’re a coach or trainer who works with runners, or if you’re a runner with an inquisitive mind who wants to improve your performance then you will enjoy it.

recent episode reminded me that training errors may be the most common source of injury among runners. Jason said he had a cross country coach who used the term the “three toos,” meaning too much, too fast, too soon. Many of us get hurt by running too many miles, running too fast, and doing either or both before we’re ready for all that training stress. Research shows that injuries are often preceded by inappropriate, excessive increases in training stress.

(This problem of excessive training isn’t confined to runners. Almost anyone from bodybuilders to cyclists to golfers with a zest for physical activity and competition, who believe himself or herself to be eternally bulletproof and able to withstand superhuman levels of grueling hard work may succumb. I think social media exacerbates the problem.)

I often write about aches, pains, and how to recover from injury. Much of what I do with clients involves doing specific exercises to either mobilize a joint, increase his/her movement skill, or get stronger in a specific way. My thinking (and I don’t think I’m the only one) goes that if this hurts then that exercise will fix it. That may not be the best way to approach a problem though. To get a full picture, I need to always remember to ask the question, “What happened before you got hurt.” Unless someone suffered an acute injury, it’s likely that he or she increased their training suddenly and did more work than his/her body could handle. Smart training is the best protection and that’s why hiring a coach to help you with your training is a good idea.

 

9 Exercises to Make Your Big Toe Work Better

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The big toe might be the Rodney Dangerfield of the body. It don’t get no respect!

Whether you’re a runner or not, you will benefit from stronger, more competent feet—particularly the big toe, or hallux. Hallux mobility and stability are critical to how the foot absorbs shock, stabilizes the stride, stores energy, and pushes off.

Without adequate foot mobility and strength, any number of problems may arise, including pain in the ankles, shins, knees, hips, and lower-back.  When foot problems arise, we tend to rely on inserts, special shoes, tape, and other external aids to solve our problems. There’s a better way: Mobilize the feet and make them strong and engaged, starting with the big toe.

Read more of my latest article for Podium Runner.

Running posture, glutes, cramps and Achilles tendinopathy

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I’ve written several times about my problems with Achilles tendinopathy and plantar fasciits. I’ve also written an article about cramping. My solution has been to strengthen the lower legs for the Achilles problem, and strengthen the adductors and hamstrings to fix the cramping. I think the strength work has helped, but there’s more to the story.

A few weeks ago I attended a running seminar with Jay Dicharry, a physical therapist and running/cycling coach. It was a superb course and I got to revisit some biomechanics and running technique concepts to which I’d been exposed in the past.

We discussed stacking the ribs over the pelvis while running. This posture helps take pressure off the lumbar spine and it puts the pelvis in a position to optimize the use of muscles that attach to the pelvis, especially the glutes. This posture enables a runner to use the glutes to propel the runner forward which is an efficient way to run in that the gluteus maximus is the largest muscles in the body.

I realized during this discussion that though my running technique had improved, I could improve it a little more. Specifically, I saw that I wasn’t using my glutes enough to run and as a consequence, I was using my calves and probably my adductors (which extend the hip along with the hamstrings and glutes) too much. Forward propulsion wasn’t being distributed evenly among these muscles. The glutes weren’t doing their fair share to create hip extension and the abs weren’t helping maintain good pelvic position. The calves and adductors were doing too much work. The overexertion was causing excessive strain on the Achilles and plantar fascia, and causing early fatigue of the adductors which led to cramps.

I believe I can also trace my ~10 years of low-back pain to this faulty running technique. Again, my lack of glute contribution demanded that I use lumbar extension to get my leg behind me.

This position brought on low-back pain, hamstring/adductor cramps, and Achilles/foot pain.

 

I’ve been running a little differently lately. I’ve become more aware of where my ribs are positioned in relation to my pelvis. I’ve also tuned in to my glutes. I work to feel them contract to push me forward. I’m aware of my ribs being stacked over my pelvis as I run.

This position is better for me. I’m stronger, more efficient, and I don’t hurt. The glutes and abs are doing their job.

This isn’t the first time in my fitness career that I’ve reexamined something I thought I understood only to realize I’d missed something significant. Coming back to information like this is similar to reading a good book a second time in that I see the same information in a different way. This second exposure to core and glute function expanded my understanding tremendously.

Management of Running & Lifting

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Near the beginning of the race – looking back at the Whetstone Mountains.

It’s seven weeks to the Grand Traverse Trail Run, my first ultramarathon. (Also, seven weeks remain to raise $3000 for Running Out of Time, my effort on behalf of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Do you want to help save the outdoors? Can you donate? Please do!) I ran a little over 40 mi. last week, which is high mileage for me. I’ll run about 35 mi. this week. That’s included some hard intervals, hill climbs, and heat. I’m also fitting in a few bike rides. I am feeling all that hard work. Deeply. I fade early in the evening, sleep hard, and wake up tired. (But I LOVE the process!) This isn’t alarming. It’s 100% normal for this stage of training. Consequently, I have little left for weight training.

Typically I do well with twice-weekly weight workouts. With all the running though, I’m averaging a weight workout once per week, and sometimes those workouts are minimal with just one or two exercises. I only have so much time and energy to expend. I can’t put my all into everything. This is the reality of resource allocation when it comes to physical activity.

The timing of lifting sessions and running workouts is important. Lifting compromises running performance in the short-term due to soreness and a diminished ability to generate force through the legs. I need strong legs for speed workouts and long runs, so I need to be strategic in planning runs and lifting sessions. This article from Runner’s World discusses research pertaining to lifting and running. It suggests several ways to combine them:

  • Run first before lifting if running and lifting on the same day.
  • Separate runs from lifting sessions by at least six hours
  • One example:
    • Day 1: Hard run
    • Day 2: AM easy run, PM weight workout OR
    • AM hard run, PM weight session on the same day

Fortunately, strength training once per week is entirely adequate to preserve strength and some research indicates I can get stronger with training only once per week. Paul Ingram at PainScience.com has summarized research on lifting frequency.

The benefit to constrained lifting opportunities is that I’m forced to focus on those lifts that will benefit my running the most. I must drill down to the essentials. Constraints like this are benefits disguised as obstacles.