Stretching Your Glutes Isn't EnoughJul 17, 2019
Recently, during a hard week of training—including climbing intervals on the bike and heavy lifting in the gym—I woke up with intense tightness in my left glute. Previously, I had overworked my my right glute, which made it tighter. Now it was the left. I saw this as a good sign, though. These muscles are turning on again and getting stronger. However, the deep soreness I was feeling indicated that something was wrong. I had to figure it out.
Since I had noticed the slowly growing tightness over the preceding days, I increased my routine of foam rolling and stretching, hoping that would be the answer. It wasn’t. Helpful, yes, but each workout brought the tightness back.
Despite the escalating discomfort, until this particular day, I had been able to complete my workouts and mostly recover. This pain worried me, though. Because of my understanding of the different forms of pain (the good pain of exertion and bad pain that can cause damage to the body), I wasn’t concerned about injuring myself. Instead, I feared that I wouldn't able to complete my desired training rides over the weekend.
It has been a few years since I’ve trained seriously for cycling. Since I've been healthy again, I've been excited to ride hard. These hard rides are part of my training for The Pioneer, a six day mountain bike stage race. I'm looking forward to riding this race with my husband, Ken, in December. However, I need to train so that I can prepare for the ride!
While I was pursuing fitness, however, I unfortunately fell back into old mental patterns. Just as our bodies revert back to previous positions and ways of moving, our minds also return to old patterns of thinking. I am the perfect example of this.
As is typical, I approached this pain with my athletic mindset. My thoughts were overwhelmed with the desire to ride and the stress of not being able to do so. Because I had been training well and was gaining strength, I was anxious about being forced off the bike. I didn’t want to lose the gains I had made. Obviously, I wanted to continue to progress. I thought: if my glute is tight, I just need to stretch it and create more mobility and ease in those tissues. Although this is true, it is not complete.
I had fallen into a common trap. I was only the treating symptoms. And, I was only treating where it hurts. But I know better! I actually wrote about it years ago: Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom.
Ok. Let's go back to the morning when I woke up with the excessively tight left glute that threatened to derail my training plan for the day . . .
I awoke early. As I laid in bed, I could feel the tightness in the back of my hip. Oh no, I thought. Today Ken and I have a big ride planned. Am I going to be able to go?
Fortunately, instead of letting myself get carried away with that thought and the accompanying worry and fear, I chose to tune in to my body. Instead of becoming overwhelmed, I took on my curious, open and gentle therapist mindset.
First, I noticed my position. While lying on my back, my left foot was turned way out, and the right was pointed nearly straight up. Interesting. My left leg has a tendency to turnout, but this seemed excessive. Since rotation of the foot reflects the position of the hip, I decided to check out the range of motion in the hip joint. As I tried to rotate my foot and hip inward, though, I meet much resistance and tightness in the back of my hip. Aha! Internal rotation is restricted. This is really not surprising, considering the soreness in the glutes, which are external rotators that turn the hip and foot out.
Okay, my body was holding the hip in external rotation, Why? Recall that Why is The Most Important Question to Ask About Your Pain. Yet, despite all of my knowledge and experience, I hadn’t asked it—until now! As you can see, my emotions were clouding my logic.
In order to figure this out, I asked myself some important questions. First, why was my hip stuck in external rotation? The answer? Because my glute muscles were short and tight. Next, why were there muscles imbalanced? Because of how I was moving on the bike, which I’ll describe shortly. And finally, what needed to happen to relieve the tightness? I had to reposition my hip back into a neutral position.
Anatomically, the position of the pelvis affects the position of the hip. In addition to my hip being out of position, my pelvis was in too much anterior tilt (rotation forward).
So, in order to allow the hip to move, I needed to reposition the pelvis first. And, to reposition bones, I then needed to modify the tone in the soft tissues that were holding them. Thus, I needed to activate muscles, mostly the hamstrings, to rotate the pelvis back (posterior tilt) and engage the inner thighs to reposition the hip to neutral.
Here is a summary of the steps I took:
- Rotate my pelvis back (posterior tilt) on the left side to create space for the hip to move.
- Reposition the hip to a more neutral position through activation of the internal rotation muscles.
- Strengthen the pelvis and hip in this new orientation.
It took over an hour, but by the end, my glute tightness had diminished and my hip moved more freely. The discomfort was not gone, but it was diminished. Since I felt a bit better, I decided to do a simpler ride that day, close to home, so that I could monitor how I was feeling and stop early if needed. Nicely, I didn’t need to!
While riding, I became aware of the pedaling pattern that was contributing to my soreness. The pain increased when I pushed on the outside of my foot, which taxed the lateral muscle of my leg up into the glutes at the back of my hip. When I focued on pressing down with my big toe, I relieved the pain. Oh, and by the way, if this sounds familiar, you’re right! I had a similar experience on my right side while hiking. You can read about that in my blog: Why You Need Body Awareness.
A couple weeks before this, I had commented to Ken that my right foot didn’t seem to know where to be on the pedal. Even though I kept adjusting it, it never felt comfortable. Today, because my hip and pelvis were in a more neutral position, my foot was solid. I could feel my muscles engaging equally on both sides, which is something I hadn’t felt in a while.
It wasn't all perfect. About two hours into the ride, I felt a slight twinge of pain in my left glute. However, instead of stressing out, I immediately assessed the situation. And, as a result, I figured out that I had become lazy with that foot: I had been pressing on the outside again and was no longer engaging through my inner thigh. A simple change in focus took the pain away. After the ride, I felt better than before I started. Since I was now consistently firing the hip muscles in the right position, my improved posture remained stable.
I feel very fortunate to have this level of insight about my body. Having the ability to conquer my fear, overcome mental and physical patterns and stay active is priceless. I want the same for you! I want you to “Stay in the Game for Life.” Contact me if I can help.
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