February 18, 2010

Getting my butt muscles firing!

Recently I traveled to New Zealand to partake in Epic Camp #3.  Over the 15-day camp (including one rest day that only consisted of a 30km ride), I cycled almost 2300kms, ran almost 140kms and swam 40kms.  While at the camp, my coach, Scott Molina, pointed out that my ‘glutes were shrinking’.  ‘Tara, you have less booty than ever before!’  How can this be possible when I am putting in this kind of training mileage?  The answer is that it is possible because I am recruiting other muscles to do the job of my butt muscles.  These other muscles include my hamstrings and adductors.

This would explain why my hamstrings have been chronically sore.  Due to my weak or non-firing gluteal muscles, my hamstrings have to work harder to take more of the load and as a result become overworked and fatigued.

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This muscle imbalance in the hips can cause hamstring pain and even hamstring strain.  Triathletes also tend to have tight hip flexors which further inhibits gluteal muscle contraction because of the anterior pelvic tilt this hip flexor tightness creates.

It is really important for triathletes to correct any of these hip muscle imbalances with all the daily running and cycling to prevent injury and improve performance. The less the gluteal muscles fire, the more likely the hamstrings are going to be weak due to overuse or compensation and the more likely the performance will be sub-par.

This is what I am doing to try to correct my hip imbalances and get things firing as they should:

1.  Stretch the muscles in the front of the hip, or the hip flexors as well as the adductors or inner thigh muscles.  Two great stretches include the runner’s lunge (done with a wide step and with the torso upright) to stretch the iliopsoas and a side lunge to stretch the adductors.

2.  Strengthen the abdominal muscles for support by doing front and side plank poses.

3.  Strengthen the glutes with exercises like one-legged dead lifts, glute bridges (Lie on your back with knees bent and put a small medicine ball between your knees.  Squeeze the ball and lift up your butt.  Hold for a couple seconds, lower and repeat.), side steps with a band around your ankles (for added challenge I go up on my toes), lunges (push through your front heel) and good old fashion butt squeezes to activate the muscles.  Always keep the abdominal muscles contracted for support!

So get your butt muscles firing too!

Tara