Day 6: The Simplest Solution

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A treat from author Susan Lacke, writer for Competitor and an athlete who does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes.

Sometimes the best solution really is the simplest one.

After five months of not running, I landed in Dr. John Ball’s office. Normally doctors don’t get an introduction to my alter ego, Hot Mess Susan, until the second or third appointment, but I had reached the end of my rope. Between wails laced with despair and snot, I outlined my knee injury for my new doctor.

His response was completely different than expected. Where other doctors came up with elaborate hypotheses for the cause of my knee pain, Dr. Ball kept it simple. My knee was fine, he said, but my hips were the main problem.

It seemed almost too simple. After all, the doctors I had seen previously wanted to try cortisone injections and exploratory surgery. Besides, if my knee was so fine, as he said, then why did it hurt so much?

But for some reason, I trusted Dr. Ball. Hot Mess Susan didn’t seem to faze him, probably because most other athletes come to him in a similar state: tired, frustrated, and desperate for something (anything!) that would get them running again.

As it turns out, he was right. Almost every single problem I have as a runner can be traced back to my hips. Since my first day in his office, it’s become a recurring theme:

“Dr. Ball, my knee hurts.”

“It’s your weak hips.”

“Hey, so my hamstring is doing this weird thing…”

“Because of your hips.”

“So this weekend I was running and…”

“You got a weird pain? Yeah, weak hips.”

“I think I’ve got strep throat.”

“Blame the hips.”

“I burn toast.”

“Hips.”

It’s gotten to the point where Writer’s Block means a trip to the gym, because, you know…the hips.

Shakira was right, y’all: Your hips don’t lie. Scientists have confirmed this time and time again with studies identifying weak hips as the culprit behind many biomechanical issues and injuries in runners.

The hips need to be strong in order to support the movement of all the other parts used in running – the feet, ankles, knees, abs, back, even the shoulders. Yes, your body is one big beautiful kinetic chain, and when one link is wonky, everything else gets thrown off.

You might think, working at a running magazine, that I’d know all of this already. And you would be right. Kinda. Sorta. Not really.

One of my editors, Mario Fraioli, also happens to be my running coach. He has sent me helpful strengthening exercises and continuously reminds me to balance my run training with a regime to strengthen the entire kinetic chain. All of these e-mails were moved to a folder in my inbox titled “Crap from Coach Dude.”

While lamenting my knee pain on Twitter, my friend Jason Fitzgerald (also a running coach) asked if I had considered weak hips as a possibility. I believe my answer actually included the words “pish-posh,” because when I make an ass of myself, I really go all out.

Around the time I became injured, my colleague Matt Fitzgerald wrote a piece about my very condition, prevention, and cure, yet I refused to believe the solution could be so simple. Instead, I went from doctor to doctor, collecting different diagnoses like Taylor Swift collects ex-boyfriends. And, like my girl Taylor, I wrote about my mélange of maladies.

I made the same mistake you probably make, too. Humans have a tendency to ignore information if it doesn’t apply to us right this second. Like flossing, saving money, or – yes – strengthening exercises, we brush aside expert advice because dentures, retirement, and injury aren’t a pressing issue.

Or so we think.

Future-You would like it very much if Current-You would get your head out of your ass and do all of those things. Not tomorrow, not next week – now.

It wasn’t until I landed in Dr. Ball’s office, desperate to avoid the needle and knife of a cut-happy surgeon that I finally got it.

Several months…and thousands of hip strengthening exercises later, I’m finally running again. Though my initial pace has been slow, I can already sense I’m on the road to becoming a better, stronger runner than before.

Sometimes the best solution really is the simplest one.

Weak hips are a common runner issue. We tend to ignore the muscles that don’t directly help us run (quadriceps, glutes, calves), and our bodies become strong in some areas and desperately weak in others.

Hips do not lie: They need work. So let’s work them.

Day 6 exercises: 2-3 sets of 10

  • Sumo Squats
  • Side Lying Leg Raises
  • Weighted Hip Lifts
  • Wall Sit – :60 (1X) – Our calendar says :60 but I know you can go longer. Let’s see some awesome wall sits today Crew!

Bonus: Modern Moms/Dads Hip Strength – You know we have to throw this one in on hip day! And since today’s exercises are pretty quick, I hope everyone takes the time to get this fantastic routine in. Not only will it tone and tighten our hips….it will strengthen them too.

Speed Work: This week’s speed work can be found in our Day 5 (Monday) post. Click here and scroll down to find the workout and some pacing guidelines.


Day 6 “how to” videos:

Sumo Squats: Great lower body exercise but be sure to keep your hips steady and strong during each rep. Use your bodyweight or add a dumbbell for added resistance.

 

Side Lying Leg Raises: Watch this video to see a few small variations in this traditional exercise that will put more focus on the hips.

Weighted Hip Lifts (or Thrusts): This exercise can be done from a bench or on the floor like a glute bridge with added weight. Below are 2 videos to show you the different options.

Weighted Hip Lift (on floor):

Weighted Hip Lifts (Thrusts) from bench: I went through a lot of videos to find one that I really liked and although this one doesn’t show her using a dumbbell or added weight, I love the idea of adding a resistance band. Check it out.

Wall Sit: Most of us are already familiar with this exercise but if case you need a reminder, watch the video below. Our calendar ways :60, but can you make it longer?

 

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