But whether you’ve been running for 6 years, 6 months or 6 minutes you can’t afford to ignore how it affects your body.
However not just the old gastrocnemius that gets worked pounding the pavements. Muscles work in groups and have an effect on each other. They often have their ‘opposite number’ and if one muscle becomes stronger than the other it can cause an injury or defect (such as runner’s knee).
Because I’d rather put memes up than pictures of the ACTUAL muscles, if you want to see what they look like, try this website here. (Go on, knock yourself out)
How It Works
For most actions,
-one muscle does the movement (prime mover)
-one muscle does it’s opposite (antagonist)
-and a few muscles help and stabilize the movement.
For example in the bending of the knee:
-Hamstrings bend the knee
-Quadriceps straighten it
-Popliteus, gastrocnemius and the glutes help and stabilize the movements.
If one muscle in the group increases in strength faster than the others you can imagine the shenanigans this can cause. It also becomes tighter and less flexible.
Areas To Watch
The intercostals move the rib cage during breathing. The stronger they are the larger and deeper breaths we can take, and therefore increase our respiratory efficiency. And a pulled one hurts, lots. The Abs in general provide attachment points for the hip flexors and are responsible for the posture of the runner. Weak abs can lead to back issues, especially twisting injuries and the lower back. They can also increase the chance of a pulled groin lads (ouch) if the hip flexors don’t have a solid anchor to pull against.
Quads, in particular. Rectus femoris & Vastus Intermedialus (two of the quads) swing the leg forward. These babies give you our kick. Their opposite numbers are the hamstrings, if Rectus and Vastus get too beasty and they pull too much force against the Hamstrings and you are more likely to strain them. The solution is simple, stretch the quadriceps so they aren’t as brutal, and use resistance training to improve the hamstrings.
Popliteus is small muscle behind the knee which helps with bending the leg. It’s antagonist, one of the hamstrings – Bicep femoris is a big BEASTY powerhouse of a muscle that pulls the hell out of tiny Popliteus. As we train and our hammies become stronger and tougher, it takes more of a battering and can cause pain behind the knee.
Popliteus can be strengthened with exercises such as ball squats and leg curls, and the hamstrings stretched. Massage is also useful.
The Glutes control how much we lean forward when we run, help with leg lift and stabilizes our leg swing. There’s Maximus and Medius. Maximus is the big muscle we all know, love and if you’re Beyonce have insured. Medius extends the hip forward and out.
It’s antagonist are the adductor group. The decidedly less impressive inner thigh muscles, responsible for shutting your legs. Used more by some than others then………….
Most runners will usually take a good crack at working the Glutes without knowing much more than a tight arse looks better in running shorts. However a toned Maximus can prevent hamstring strains, lower back pain, support the psoas (one of the major hip muscles) and contribute towards tight IT bands. And that last one, a runner definitely DOES NOT need.
BUT whatever you do not ignore the adductors. Not only are sagging inner thighs not a good look, but a strong Medius and weak adductors can affect hip positioning, gait and cause some wicked pain. I will however write more on this further down as there are more reasons why you should work your inner thighs.
Stretch – Glutes
Reistance Training – Adductors, think side leg lifts, ball squeezes, or the hip adduction machine at the gym.
Sore hips in runners is pretty standard, and the two main culprits are the psoas major & the piriformis. Psoas is responsible for lifting the upper leg towards the body, and piriformis adducts the femur so we can shift our weight to the other side of the foot. This stops us falling over when we lift a leg. A bit useful during walking and running then.
Piriformis is an extremely temperamental muscle and it lies deep underneath the Glutes and near the sciatic nerve. Any inflammation or tension can put pressure on the nerve and cause more pain and suffering than a boyband breakup. To make matters worse piriformis is STUBBORN and won’t always relax on it’s own, so you need to give it a hand. If you’ve never done this before there’s a video here.
Now I realise sitting on a basketball seems like the start of a porno, but your hips will thank me.
As far as the psoas goes think: Donkey kicks, leg raises, reverse crunches, knee lifts.
Tensor Facia Latae/IT Band
These muscles abduct and flex the thigh at the hip and are used A LOT in walking and running. This is part of the reason why runners who run on a banked surface or have a bad gait are more likely to get IT band syndrome, or Runner’s Knee. Why you ask? Well as a muscle gets stronger it tightens and pulls harder (and repeatedly rolling the leg inwards will do that) In the case of IT band syndrome, it pulls so hard that it pulls the knee out of alignment.
The way to counter act this is to……you guessed it, strengthen the OTHER side, so the knee is pulled back into place, and yup stretching of the IT band. You can also bring in a massage therapist or a foam roller to help. However if you are too cheap (like me) to buy a roller, a ridged juice bottle filled with water and shoved in the freezer so it turns to ice will do the job!
This whole runner maintenance stuff isn’t exactly genius, resistance training, stretching and maybe a bit of massage. But with a bit of care you can save yourself a lot of trouble later on.