Muscle Imbalances and Weaknesses

I’ve recently discovered how much weaker the lower half of my left side is than my right side, which leads to some issues while running. I think this all goes back to two calf strains that occurred during marathon training in 2013. I didn’t really address the muscle imbalances during (or after) training. I wanted to just get my left side strong enough to finish the marathon. After the Richmond Marathon in 2013, I took a break from running and thought some serious resting would help my calf heal.

Well, I probably should have worked on getting my left side stronger. I remember going to physical therapy during training in 2013 and having to do one-legged squats. Right side was fine but my left side was significantly weaker, with my left knee bending inward rather than tracking straight over my toe.

Now that I’ve moved on from my super stable Saucony Omnis to more neutral sneakers, I’ve developed a callous under the ball of my left foot.

A few weeks ago, a physical therapist from Pivot Physical Therapy gave a talk after Runologie’s Sunday Run Club. She suggested a few exercises to target areas of weakness for runners. She said runners, since they experience just forward movement, need to integrate side-to-side movement to help strengthen hip flexors, glutes and leg muscles. Stronger hip and glute muscles lead to improved running form and performance. In addition to strengthening exercises, she advised incorporating side-to-side moves like the grapevine for a warm-up to warm up and activate those muscles.

Exercises for runners handout from Pivot Physical Therapy, Raleigh

Exercises for runners handout from Pivot Physical Therapy, Raleigh


Secondly, she talked about the importance of strengthening and stretching one’s hamstrings. Looser hamstrings help you run faster because you can have a wider range of motion. She said she suggests runners, as a go-to hamstring stretch, lay down on the floor and put their legs straight up against the wall, perpendicular to the floor. She also stressed the benefits of yoga for runners.

After her brief chat, she stayed to answer questions from runners. I asked her about the callous on the ball of my left foot and mentioned my 2013 calf strains. She seemed to have suggestions right away but confirmed the weakness by feeling both hip flexors and noticed a definite weakness on the left side. Since she has seen many runners with similar muscle imbalances and weaknesses, she had some great suggestions of extremely simple exercises.

1. On all fours, move one bent leg out to the side while keeping core strong. The goal is to get your leg parallel to the floor. You can see I’m still working on that.
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2. A version of the clam: Lay down on one side with your torso in a straight line. Then make a small movement with your top leg, opening it up just slightly. You should be able to feel this in your glute and hip flexor.
IMG_5206

I’ve just been doing these exercises about 2-3 times per week over the past couple of weeks and I’ve already noticed a difference! This moves really target the areas I need to strengthen. I’ve been pretty sore after just a few reps and notice that I’m engaging my glutes more when I’m running (a good thing). Most importantly (well, for me for now), my callous has improved and I’ve felt less pain on the ball of my left foot while running. I loved my Saucony Omnis but all the sneaker support really just put a bandaid on my running problems. I’m glad to be addressing my running form now, which will make me a stronger and less injury-prone runner. The summer, since we’re not training for any races, is the perfect time to work on strength and flexibility!

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