One of the key muscles in running is the little known Gluteus Medius, the smaller, less famous sibling to the Gluteus Maximus.
The view below is from behind a person, showing how the Gluteus Medius originates on the hip and attaches to the top of the Greater Trochanter (the bony protrusion on the side of your leg just below your hip bone).
Its primary action is to pull the leg out to the side – abduction, but when the foot is on the floor and whilst weight bearing, it stabilises the thigh bone so that the knee joint doesn’t travel in towards the midline of the body, a situation that can be repeated time and time again while running. This is a key action in preventing Pronation Distortion Syndrome or PDS – commonly understood as overpronation.
When the Gluteus Medius isn’t strong enough or doesn’t ‘fire’ properly the knees can begin to track in towards the midline of the body too much. Subsequently putting increased stress through the hip, knee, ankle and foot. When the knee tracks in more than it should, very often the ankle rolls inwards too and pronates the foot perhaps more than is desirable.
A running shoe with the appropriate cushioning and arch support can improve a faulty gait pattern and vastly improve foot and ankle position. However it won’t address the underlying physical dysfunction that was causing the excess pronation.
This article focuses on improving the function of the Gluteus Medius.
In order to do so we have to improve two things; The strength of the Gluteus Medius muscle and then the flexibility of the muscles on the opposite side on the inside of our legs, our adductors.
The simplest way to isolate, activate and strengthen the Gluteus Medius muscle is to perform Clams but the carry over to running is difficult to see. While it will target the correct muscles, may strengthen them and improve your running form, it is often better to integrate the target muscle and strengthen it from within the same chain of muscles that has to operate while you run. A resisted band walk has much more carry over to the running action. It is performed in a standing position and so resembles running much more closely.
To perform the resisted band walk, place a resistance band around any point of your legs from thigh down to ankle, the lower the band gets the more the resistance. The strength and position of the resistance band is dictated by whether you can keep perfect form and technique for the duration of the exercise.
Start with your feet about hip width apart, facing straight forwards.
If the band is still slack then you either need to shorten it or purchase a shorter one.
Bend your knees to an angle of about 30 degrees and stick your bottom out behind you forming a slight forward lean in the upper body.
Keep your back flat with your head and chest up (it’s the position Rugby’s Jonny Wilkinson used to get into before he took a penalty kick).
Next you are simply going to side step for six steps to your left, then, facing the same way six steps to your right. While stepping, it’s imperative that you keep your knees out, try not to let the trailing leg collapse in when the band gets tight, think John Wayne on his invisible horse!
Muscles always work in pairs, with one or more muscles contracting while the opposing group relaxes. While it is important to strengthen a muscle that isn’t strong enough you should also stretch the opposing muscle(s), especially if it is tight and overactive. This ensures the opposite muscle will not inhibit the contracting muscle’s ability to contract, which subsequently could lead to a loss of strength and control of the joint.
There are many different ways to stretch the inside of our legs – adductor muscles. The simplest and easiest to perform is a simple raise of one hip and weight shift onto the same side leg while the feet are wider than shoulder width. The stretch should be felt down the inside of the trailing leg.
Muscle stretching is at its most effective though when used in conjunction with foam rolling.
Rolling the adductors is relatively straight forward.
Lay on your front and raise your leg out to one side so that the inside of the leg rests on top of the roller.
Roll from slightly above the knee all the way up to your groin taking note of the spots that give you the most feedback.
Return to the most noticeable one and stay on that point for a minimum of thirty seconds.
The rolling is designed to unstick the fascia surrounding the muscles resulting in an increase in flexibility and less tension.
Although there are several conditions that can develop in the knee, such as patella tendonitis, runners knee or meniscus tears, a combination of these simple exercises should lead to an improvement in the joint mechanics of the knee, if it was faulty to begin with. It should enable you to keep running without stressing the knee every step of your run. After all, a happy knee leads to a happy runner.
Enjoy your running
About the author; Matt Jeffery is Advance Performance’s strength and conditioning specialist, he’s a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine and runs a strength and conditioning company called Synergy Physical Training