Updated: Nov 15, 2018
Don’t be sidelined by injuries
I have always felt that I need my sport. When I’m not training, something feels off – I think most athletes feel this way. We crave the feeling of running through Mission Trails first thing in the morning, when the sun is just peeking over the hilltops. We know there is a certain type of release that you can only get when you are alone on your bike, away from the crowds, cycling through the hills of Alpine. The only thing that keeps far too many athletes away from their sport is when they are sidelined by injury.
According to the Journal of Sports Medicine, as many as one-half of runners get injured every year. No athlete wants to suffer an injury and be sidelined for days - to weeks - to months. But at PSL we see it over and over again. Endurance athletes seek us out to coach them because their prior training approach left them with nagging tightness in their hips, creaky knees or stiff ankles. Maybe they saw a physical therapist who said some tongue-twisting words like Patellofemoral Stress Syndrome or Iliotibial Band Friction Syndrome. Athletes come to us because they are eager to get back on the road, back to training, and they want to be able to enjoy a lifetime of activity. They come to us to learn how they can reach their performance goals while staying injury free. And we can help.
Tight hips and weak glutes
Why are so many endurance athletes injured every year? There are a number of contributing factors. The nature of the sport increases risk for repetitive injury, but for many, that is exacerbated by how we spend the rest of our week – when we aren’t training. Many athletes have a typical work week which means 40 hours of sitting at a desk. Every. Single. Week. This causes their glutes to slowly stop firing due to reduces oxygen and tightened hip flexors. Not sure if this is you? Take a look at how you tend to stand. If your lower back arches and you naturally stick your butt out - your hip flexors are excessively tight and weak. Not only do tight hip flexors cause the glutes to become weaker, they can also start to take on some of the abdominal work - which can make it difficult to strengthen the abs. So, if you often feel your reverse crunches in your hip flexors, or just feel like you’re struggling to get strong in your abs – you likely have tight or weak hip flexors.
So what it the solution to preventing injury for endurance athletes? For the majority the answer is simple: strengthen your hip flexors and your glutes. Not only can this help with hip pain, it can be the solution for a host of other common athlete complaints.
Knee pain is rampant among endurance athletes. Again, this is often due to tight hip flexors and weak glutes. Hip muscles, like the gluteus medius, control the motion of your leg and knees, helping to pull your leg out to the side when you’re running or cycling. When your gluteus medius muscle becomes weak, your thigh rotates and pull inwards abnormally. This is called a “collapsing kinetic chain.” The abnormal position of your thigh puts excessive stress and strain around your knee. Interestingly, this same “collapsing kinetic chain” can radiate down to your feet, causing ankle stiffness and pain; and it can radiate up to the lower back, causing the dull lower back ache some athletes report when on the bike. A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that weak hip abductors and external rotators are associated with patellofemoral pain and injury. The study also suggested that strength training may be an important factor in managing knee pain, other lower body extremity pain, and injury.
Can I just run and cycle more to strengthen my hips and glutes?
No. Running and Cycling are amazing sports – my chosen sports - but they are not proper training for weak muscles. Our bodies respond to aerobic training in a number of positive ways: reduced body fat, increased maximal oxygen uptake, and increased muscle endurance just to name a few. But running and cycling are not effective ways to increase muscle fiber size and strength in the hips and glutes – which is what we need for injury prevention.
This is where strength training comes in. Smart strength training not only improves athleticism (running form, cycling form, swimming form, jumping, agility) – it toughens up your connective tissues, and strengthens you in all the places needed to keep you injury-free – including those hips and glues. Strength training is the armor that lets you keep your desk-job during the week, but also lets you knock out a marathon on Sunday morning injury-free. It is the armour that protects us from tens of thousands of high-impact steps in our training.
When we think about the serious commitment that our athletes have to their endurance training, the hours spent on the road or on the trail, adding two to three strength training sessions a week is well worth it - as it prevents injury and ensures our endurance athletes can continue their sport.
At PSL, we don’t let our athletes become part of the one-half of endurance athletes that get injured annually – we strength train year round, prevent injury, and finish strong. Our P³ training system: Power, Performance, Prevention, is designed to give the athlete the full training package. If you, or a friend of yours, currently do not have a regular strength training program, don’t wait until injury sets in. Reach out today. We help you to commit to smarter training – without injuries.
Written By Coach Joe Beckerley owner of Performance Strength Lab. A high performance gym based out of Santee, California where he offers his expertise in strength and conditioning, nutrition and training for endurance events. Coach Beckerley holds a bachelors degree in Instructional Technology, is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist, USA Triathlon L2 Coach, USA Weightlifting L2 Advanced Sports Performance Coach, Ironman Coach and a Youth Fitness and Nutrition Specialist. contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org