With the final in my series of Yoga for Runners workshops happening this Saturday, the focus of hamstrings, calves and feet is quite an obvious one – the added focus of Gluteus Maximus, perhaps not so, specifically Lower Gluteus Maximus.
It’s well known that Glute Max is the largest and most powerful muscle in the body, it’s a pretty obvious one! But how many of you knew that the upper and the lower portions actually have different functions?? Whilst the upper glut max has similar functionality to TFL, in externally rotating and abducting, the lower part primarily extends the hip joint, with only some abduction.
So, having different functions, we can almost consider the upper and lower parts to be separate muscles, and therefore strengthened and released in different ways. Now, because in our modern, relatively luxurious lifestyles we tend to sit too much, the lower glute max can become rather lazy and weak, with many people finding it hard to ‘connect’ with. This means that upper glute max often works much harder than it should, and tries to do the job of it’s lower counterpart, which it just can’t do well, leaving it tight, sore and causing tension elsewhere.
This becomes even more significant when running. As the lower half of the muscle extends the hip (that’s the role of lifting the heel towards the butt), this is an essential movement in a natural and efficient running technique. Hence the focus for this weekend’s workshop!
We’ll be exploring simple and more challenging ways to strengthen Lower Gmax and release Upper Gmx in the workshop, amongst releasing tension of the feet, calves, hamstrings and hips. Below, the first video shows one of the simplest ways to check in with and strengthen LGmx.
In the following sequence, I move between working the LGmx by thinking about ‘hugging’ my sitting bones in this version of Utkatasana/ chair and Horse, and releasing it in the forward folds, as well as the hamstrings.
I’ll be running the Runner’s workshop series again but dates aren’t set yet, so please join me if you can at Five Elements near St Agnes Cornwall this Saturday for two hours of feet, calves, hamstrings and booty, including a few easy running drills and recovery yoga. There is space if you want to join by booking here.
Our repetitive, daily forward-motion activities (driving, running, typing, reaching, etc.) take their toll on our posture. With actions where the shoulders hunch forwards, the pectoral muscles tighten and the infraspinatus at the back of the shoulders weaken.
If time isn’t taken to release accumulated tension in the chest and shoulders and to strengthen the back of the body, our posture will be greatly affected, which impacts our ability to breathe to our full capacity, to sit and stand to our tallest height, and to walk and run with proper alignment.
When we’re out of alignment, we’re at greater risk of injury because our spine is vulnerable. When running, only with proper posture and alignment will be able to run with optimal efficiency.
Try this pose, morning or evening, to open the chest, release the shoulders and lengthen the spine. You’ll need two yoga blocks – place one length ways along your upper spine, and the other at full height to support your head.
Spend a few minutes, then, if comfortable, reduce the height of the block under your head. Watch the video below, that includes a few other poses to release the shoulders and open the chest and upper back.
With my Yoga for Runners workshops starting this Saturday, I’ve been excitedly planning – bringing together my learning and experience of both yoga and running – to offer the runners of all levels coming, the most useful and beneficial poses, sequences and techniques. Although there’s been an awesome rise in athletes taking on yoga as a supplement to their training, there still exists an unawareness or resistance from many trying it out. I got to thinking about how I can clearly and succinctly explain how yoga helps to prevent sports related injuries and what makes it such a vital part of an athletes training plan. See what you think!
Yoga builds strength – where you need it most. When we train hard without enough of the right cross training, our muscles get so used to being used in a particular way, that we can start to over-rely on some, and under-use others. This type of muscular imbalance is what most frequently leads to injury, as over-compensation leads to tension, tension leads to strain, and strain leads to pain. In addition, muscular weakness means there’s insufficient support of the joints, that leads to undue pressure and eventually injury. This week, I used Gluteus Medius in runners as a great example of this – watch my glut med video here – as glut med is so often weak, yet is our primary hip stabiliser. When there isn’t enough strength to stabilise the pelvis, our alignment gets thrown out, excess pressure is put on the low back, hip and knees, and the Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL) works harder than it should – straining the Iliotibial band (ITB).
Yoga develops flexibility – where excessive tension resides. So, our misalignments and imbalances that exacerbate our weaknesses over time, are also creating deep set tension. Using the example of weakness in Gluteus Medius creating an excess of tension in the TFL, it is that accumulated tension that usually causes ITB syndrome – when the IT Band becomes irritated with friction, often culminating with pain in the outside of the knee. See my ITB video here. Another example of a frequently tense/ tight muscle is the Piriformis: a small but deep external hip rotating muscle, that also stabilises the pelvis, can also work too hard if glut med is slacking, and builds extra tension through sitting and crossing legs! As with TFL, it holds on to the tension that it accumulates, if it isn’t frequently released through stretching.
Yoga enhances neuro-muscular awareness. Strength and weakness, clearly have so, so much to do with the way our bodies cope with the stresses and strains of our athletic pursuits but sometimes it’s habit and lack of awareness that overrides. What do I mean? Well, we can become so used to moving in certain ways, using certain muscles, that this becomes habitual and we loose the neuro-muscular connection and the awareness that we actually have better muscles to engage! Yoga is the best practice to create greater mind-body awareness, that not only enables you to use your physicality to its full functionality, but this awareness keeps you safer – you know when you can safely push your self harder and when you’ve reached your limit.
So, how was that for an overview of how yoga can prevent sporting injuries?! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Why strengthening your core is essential to posture, healthy back and confidence
Do you want to:
stand tall and strong?
strengthen and protect your spine, to prevent back ache and injury?
feel confident and self-assured?
Of course you do! A strong ‘core’ can lead to all of the above, but day to day life can, sometimes, prevent our centres being as strong as they should be 😉
The core and modern life
Generally, we sit too much… Either in super-comfy sofas, or in uncomfortable office chairs, that cause us to slouch and our belly to get lazy. And, from such a young age, we’re asking kids to sit in chairs too – starting the weak core epidemic early! (Why?!)
The core and physical activity
To combat all this sitting time we might exercise. Your chosen activity might be running, a gym routine and a weekly yoga class. As well as to de-stress, the focus might be to build muscle, lose a few pounds or to maintain an already good fitness level. Core strength is vitally important to support the impact of your chosen exercise, to stabilise and protect your spine and to maintain postural alignment.
So, your optimal core strength is threatened by the chair and time spent sitting! If care isn’t taken to combat our comfortable lifestyles, the spine is at risk from injury during activity, due to a lack of support from its muscular stabilisers. Lack of core strength and awareness can also lead to poor technique in running, biking, surfing and other sports.
If you’ve recently given birth, you might be returning to physical activity from a long break. For a number of reasons, your body might be lacking the the essential stabilisation from the band of muscles, that collectively make up the ‘core’.
This is why, in my opinion (and the teachers I’ve learned from), we should include targeted core and hip strengthening within our yoga practice. While yoga asana (poses) will strengthen your core, you need an awareness of those muscles to begin with. Only through this awareness will you discover how to properly activate the deeper belly, hip, side and lower back muscles, which in turn helps you strength them. This avoids bad yoga habits, will help you hold your yoga poses with proper alignment and therefore, increase the physical benefit from your yoga practice for your entire body!
By spending just a few minutes a day, you can effectively isolate the individual core muscles – strengthening the mind-body neural pathways, as to exactly how it feels to activate and utilise, a potentiallyunderused muscle group.
Top 5 core strengthening techniques
So here are my top 5 exercises, that you could start to include as part of your yoga practice. If these are new to you, start with the first one and add another each week (practising several times a week). Please note, that these may not be suitable for you. If you are suffering with a significant weakness, back issue or other complaint, you should seek a teacher’s advice (this could be with myself, in person, or online).
This is just a small number of exercises I use, that are very simple, yet very effective, if practised consistently over time. If you come to my classes then they will be familiar – now there is no excuse for not doing them at home!
To learn more, plus how we can consider our core strength throughout a dynamic yoga practice and how it aids and facilities all active poses, join me for the workshop on the 28th in St Agnes, when we will also wind-down with a few deeply relaxing, digestion aiding postures. If you’re further afield, see my regular video posts and attend a retreat. Upcoming retreats are Revive (and Run) 30th April – 6th May in Portugal and Rejuvenating Weekend 6 – 9 July in Cornwall.
Leave me a comment below and share this with someone it would help 🙂
Why do 88% of New Year’s Resolutions typically fail? Probably for several reasons:
We are still in the middle of Winter, when it is harder to get up early and crack on with our goals.
A year is too long a time frame for most people to actually visualise and realise a goal.
A ‘resolution’ is often more of an idea or a dream. In order to make it happen, we need to turn it into an actionable goal.
Let’s use the example: “I want to get fit and healthy this year.” The future tense makes it sound too distant, so change it to: “I am/ feel fit and healthy”. Then, break it down into 3 realistic, yet challenging, progress targets that show you are on track, such as: my skin is clear and glowing, I am my ideal weight, I feel strong and flexible. For each of these sub goals, give yourself 3 tasks, that you can begin to action immediately, to achieve your goal in 3 months. So, the whole approach, when written out, may look like this:
Result (Start with what you want): I feel fit and healthy.
Target (How will you know when you’re there): I am my ideal weight of _
Target: I feel strong and flexible – my Sun Salute feels easier.
Actions: I go to yoga on Monday and Thursday nights. I get one private yoga session a week, so I can practise yoga for 20 minutes at home, 4 times a week. I sit on the floor instead of the sofa when watching TV.
Target: My skin is clear and glowing.
Actions: I switch diary for plant-based alternatives. I switch coffee for green tea and alcohol for sparkling water. I drink 2 litres of water a day.
Some actions might appear more than once, as they are all contributing to the end result!
Have a go! This process of breaking down a goal/ dream into visible trackable targets and actionable tasks can be done for anything! Give it a try and let me know how you get on in the comments below. We all need to set goals in order to live the life of our dreams. If you’re not sure where to begin, start by envisaging what you actually, really want. Brainstorming everything you want, will reveal at least one life-enhancing goal. Write it down, as above, tell someone else at home to keep you accountable and track all your actions.