Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The problem with glutes!

Some days the title of an email just makes you smile. Checking through my spam reports I came across a great email this morning that simply asked a question: Are weak buttocks ruining your training? I suggested to Anne that she might like to see if she could work that one into conversation at work later in the day!

Of course the email was raising an important point and wasn't sent out with this title just to amuse me. In its context it's a perfectly appropriate question. It's hardly news to most of us that many people have issues with their glutes, often around firing patterns. I remember being fascinated one morning when someone ran past me as I walked along the Thames Embankment and I watched as their left gluteus maximus didn't appear to be engaging at all. It just sort of flopped about, appearing to do very little. Quite what was going on I don't know and didn't think it polite to ask!

If you wonder how much your gluteal muscles are engaging then you could try a simple test. Find a slope and just walk up it  normally. Then clench your buttocks and walk up. Did you notice any change in power? If you did, then it might just be that when you walk or run your glutes might not be firing properly. With practice you can retrain your muscles to fire at the right time without having to hold them "on" as it were. It can make a real difference because active glutes allow the hamstrings to focus on their job rather than compensating for the inactivity elsewhere.

The article to which the email points was actually all about a training programme and quotes one sports physiotherapist who says:

"So many athletes with running overuse injuries of the lower limb present with poor gluteus medius function that I have come to the view that the strength and function of this muscle is probably the most important active component in the achievement of a biomechanically efficient running technique."
The more I read about hips the more fascinated I am by their seeming significance to so many aspects of our health and movement. Not surprising really given their strategic role and position between upper and lower body. When you first learn origins, insertions and actions, you don't really take the time to consider what that means in complex movements. The more I read and try to understand the mechanics of movement, the more one has to see muscles in groups, working together. So, for example, gluteus medius may primarily abduct the hip and the posterior fibres extend and laterally rotate whilst the anterior fibres do the opposite, but what does it do when you run or walk? How does it stabilise the pelvis during a complex movement?

The more I think about it, the more important it seems to become to me that if I want to be a good therapist, even and excellent one, then understanding movement patterns, compensations and their relationship to injury and rehab is also very important.

And as to my buttocks and hips, well maybe if I paid a bit more attention to having healthy hips, a few other things might sort themselves out on their own!

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