When I first decided I wanted to run half marathons, I told my boyfriend I wanted ‘calves of steel’. I was a little bit jealous of his, I wanted rid of the slight wobble and the legs of a proper runner. There were two problems with this. Firstly, getting calves of steel meant becoming very well acquainted with a foam roller (mmm the glorious yet puke-inducing muscle crunching). Secondly, I decided to focus on completely the wrong area – it was not my calves that needed to be awesome to be a runner – it was my butt.
In the run up to the Berlin half, I was having problems with my left knee. Not pain as such, just something not feeling quite right. I sensibly visited Carly at Advance Physio on a recommendation (and due to them being the only practice in Nottingham – and London – who actually answered their damn phone) who told me that the problem was in fact my glutes, rather than my knees.
Naturally, there is tonnes of information on the internet detailing the importance of glute strength for distance runners. And naturally a lot of it I don’t understand. Thank goodness for Runner’s World (in this case the US edition), for summing it up in a way that makes sense:
When we run, the glutes hold our pelvis level and steady, extend our hip, propel us forward, and keep our legs, pelvis, and torso aligned. So when our glutes are faulty, our entire kinetic chain gets disrupted. Studies link glute weakness to Achilles tendinitis, shinsplints, runner’s knee, and iliotibial-band syndrome. Indeed, many injured runners I treat come to physical therapy with strong abdominals and backs but weak glutes.
Part of the problem is that glutes aren’t as active as other running muscles during routine activities, which can make your hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves disproportionately stronger. Another issue is that most strength-training routines don’t isolate the glutes. If an exercise requires several muscles to perform the movement, the majority of the work will be done by the strongest of those muscles. Also, tight muscles, specifically the hip flexors, can inhibit the glutes and prevent their muscle fibers from firing.
Without wanting to get all the technical stuff wrong, I will summarise: my hip flexors are too tight, my glutes aren’t strong enough, my ITB suffers. Hence the knee pain.
My taped up leg during the final week of Berlin half training
As pretty as the tape is, I’m in no rush to have it back. So, this time round I’m going the exercises given to me by the physio for my glutes and hip flexors. And it’s ALL ABOUT SQUATS. I’m going to the Glute Blast class at my gym every week, which is awesome and now now one of my favourite classes. Tonnes of squats and lunges with the bar on your back, lots of very unflattering floor work on all fours and finishing off with the whole class in a line against the wall doing t h e l o n g e s t s q u a t e v e r. It’s ace.
I love squats… how about you?