Friday, January 29, 2016

Glutes - How to Transition From Exercise to Run

You've been told you have weak glutes. Whether it's hip pain, knee pain, ankle pain, it all can be "healed" by improving glute strength. You are prescribed clams, side lying leg lifts, bridges then progressed to squats and lunges. You feel stronger and released to go for a run. Your symptoms feel better but returns after getting back to your routine.

Recruiting Glutes vs. Quads

Is your strength transferring from a basic clam exercise to running? Are your glutes REALLY activating when you run? For most of us, we are very quad dominant. This means we over use our quadriceps when we should be using other muscles such as our glutes. Our sedentary lifestyle of sitting at work or relaxing on the couch has us disengaging our glutes. The quads have at a mechanical advantage to work. Also, the habitual use of quadriceps enhances the neural input from the brain is going to the quads and not the glutes. In other words, the wiring to the quads is better then wiring to the glutes. When running, demand on the muscles is so high we use whatever muscles are the easiest to recruit. The Quads.

I have seen and used different cues such as "stick out your butt"or"squeeze your butt as you stand up". However, most of my patients and clients have a difficulty "feeling the exercise". AND, the improved strength doesn't seem to translate to running.


I have been using a different cue to activate the glutes while performing standing exercises such as squats and lunges. While you are performing squats or lunges (or any standing hip exercises i.e. box step ups), pretend like there is an object behind your knee and push back as you stand up. The gluteus maximus is responsible for hip extension, getting your thigh behind you body. However when your foot is fixed on the ground and the knee is given the cue to push back, this extends the knee AND hip. This will engage your gluteus maximus.

Stand up and perform a squat. When you stand up, you feel your thighs press down into the ground and push up. Now try a squat but give the cue for your knees to push back.

FEEL the burn in your glutes.

Now, think of this cue when running. You want to let your knee land normally (with a soft bend), then push back with the knee as your body is moving over your leg. You should feel like your legs are moving in a circle, almost like pedaling a bike. At first, I recommend incorporating this during a warming up, then into sides and finally into your short normal runs. The best way to feel this is up hill sprints!

So on top of performing clams, leg lifts and squats add this "push your knee back" cue to the standing exercises.

Please contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Core: More then Abs and Glutes

As athletes, we spend a lot of time working on our core. We plank. We do sit-ups. We twist. However, there is one muscle which is ignored by most athletes that is use in every stride.  In order to run, swim, bike, you need to breathe. The muscle responsible for breathing is the diaphragm. As you pick up the pace, your breathing increases. Your diaphragm is working hard!

What is the Diaphragm?

The diaphragm is a thin muscle that separates the abdominal cavity from the chest cavity. When it is relaxed it rest up against the chest cavity. When we breath the diaphragm contracts and pulls the chest cavity down. This provides negative pressure in the chest cavity allowing air into the lungs. Typically, the core is just seen as the abdominals and back. The core as a box. The pelvic floor muscles on the bottom, abs and back form the side and the diaphragm is the top.

Photo credit -

How Does It Affect my Running?

One of the biggest difficulties I see in the clinic is the inability to separate the diaphragm from the core while breathing. When most of us tighten our core, we stop breathing. OR we continue to breath without tightening our core. We have to learn how to disassociate our diaphragm from our core similar to not using your hamstring when firing your glutes. When we are not able to keep our core tight while we running we lose core stability. This will set off a whole cascade of events which can impact the mechanics of our arms and legs.

The diaphragm has multiple attachments including the hip flexors. This is important because most of us have tightness in our hip flexors. Tightness of hip flexors will not allow the diaphragm relax in  resting state. This tightness will limit our ability to take advantage of a full breath. This forces us to take shallow breaths. This can also contribute to the inability to take a full stride. When the leg is trailing behind, the hip flexor is on maximal stretch. A tight hip flexor will pull on the diaphragm limiting full exhalation.

Lastly, and most important, the diaphragm controls our breathing!

Inability to contract our abdominal muscles separate from the diaphragm and tight hips limit our ability to take full breath. Like any muscle the diaphragm can be stretched and strengthened. On top of stretching the hip flexors and strengthening our core we should also work on improving the use of our diaphragm.

Bonus Info

Side Cramps

A side cramp is when the diaphragm spasms. If you have a cramp on the right, exhale when when your left foot hits the ground. This provides a quick stretch to the diaphragm which helps alleviate symptoms. If your cramp is on your left, exhale as your right foot hits the ground

Finding balance

The diaphragm is also connected to the parasympathetic nervous symptom. This is the "rest and digest" system which allows you to relax. Everyone is busy and on the go which stimulates the sympathetic nervous symptom which is your "fight or fight" symptom. Certain chemicals are released when the sympathetic nervous symptom is activated which, over time, can be detrimental. By diaphragmatic breathing, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated balancing the sympathetic response. If I can't sleep, I focus diaphragmatic breathing and I usually fall asleep within minutes!


Diaphragmatic Breathing

On your back with knees bent, inhale allowing the abdominal cavity to rise then the chest follows. A sign the diaphragm is under-utilized is when the chest and shoulders rise first. To make this more difficult stack a couple of books on your abdominals. Do this for 10 breaths.

This can also be performed in various positions such as sitting, standing or laying down. Eventually diaphragmatic breathing should be natural.

Diaphragmatic Breathing in 3 D

We will work the diaphragm using the lunge matrix.

Stand tall and inhale, as you lunge forward exhale as you bring both arms up. Return to standing and repeat. In the frontal plane, inhale in standing then exhale as you bringing both arms up and to the side. Lastly in the transverse plane, inhale then exhale as you pivot lunge bringing both arms toward the knee.
This exercise provides an additional cue when performing lunges. If you're already doing lunges add the breathing to your routine. You don't have to perform more diaphragmatic lunges.
Perform about 5 repetitions to each side.

*** Side note I have difficulty performing frontal plane breathing exercises. Those who know me know that I had an injury to that side. This is an exercise I will be re-evaluating in a month!