Jené Shaw— The health risks associated with sitting at a desk all day have made numerous headlines in the past year. And outside of the serious health risks, a sedentary lifestyle from 9 to 5 can also have an impact on the quality of your afternoon run workouts.
“Because we sit on our butt all day, it sometimes forgets what it’s supposed to do when we go to run,” says exercise physiologist Krista Austin, Ph.D. If you go directly from your desk to the roads, your glutes may have trouble engaging. Sitting for hours also puts the hip flexors in a shortened position, which limits your ability to extend the hip and causes you to decrease your stride length, explains physical therapist Bryan Hill of San Diego’s Rehab United.
This dormant-to-active transition can result in more stress on your quads, hamstrings and lower-leg muscles, which aren’t cut out to do all of the heavy lifting. “You have to view the glute as the huge motor of a machine,” Austin says. “All of a sudden you’ve shut down the biggest part of the machinery and now you want the smaller components to do all of the work.”
Hill points out that the glutes are the largest muscle in the body (outside of the abdomen), and are responsible for not only accelerating and decelerating your legs simultaneously, but also for creating a chain reaction throughout your entire body as you stride. “It turns on just like a slingshot — by lengthening the tissue you’re creating power to use momentum to move forward,” Hill says. With weak glutes comes the threat of running’s most common injuries — everything from IT band syndrome to plantar fasciitis can be linked back to the butt.
Are you weak in the glutes? Try this quick test: Do a single-leg squat as low as you can go. If you can reach an angle of 80 degrees or more (90-degree knee flexion is optimal, says Hill), you’re likely efficient at loading your glute properly while running. If you struggle to get to 80 degrees of flexion on either leg, you should focus on strengthening your glutes through single-leg activities, which force you to isolate the muscle and can help with any potential imbalances.
Tips To Get Your Butt In Gear
- Before you go for a run, do some lateral dynamic warm-ups like carioca, side shuffles or monster walks with a band around your ankles to get your glutes firing.
- Foam roll before your run, suggests Austin, which forces a slight bit of contraction on the muscle fibers (versus after, which is for myofascial release).
- Incorporate exercises such as single-leg squats and lunge hops 2–3 times per week.
- Do hill repeats where you focus on driving the push-off from your glutes. Even thinking the words “run with your butt” can help reinforce good form.
- When you start to fatigue during a race, do a couple minutes of shorter strides at a time, and slightly lean forward from your chest to ensure your legs are landing underneath your hips. If the change in focus doesn’t help, stop and do a few hip mobility exercises to increase range of motion.