When pain occurs, especially when in the low back or the knees, the common conclusion is needing to strengthen the glutes or perhaps even teach the glutes how to fire because they have “amnesia.” Whether it is an athlete doing things on their own or an athlete working with a physical therapist, I often hear or see they have been doing exercises for the glutes – squats, lunges, clamshells, leg raises, etc. Now, I am not saying that there is not an issue with the glutes and that they don’t need to be strengthened. What I am saying, though, is the hips/glutes are not the ‘end all be all’ to your solution.
I have known plenty of athletes who have done a lot of hip strengthening work that did not solve their problem long term because it was not the primary issue. When talking about chronic, unresolved issues or those that go away only to return later, there are several things that are often being ignored: how you are moving your body, what the feet are doing, and your technique with different activities.
Improve movement patterns
I am not going to get into the debate about if there is a right way or a wrong way to move because in my mind we should train our bodies to be able to control and stabilize in any possible movement, but there are right ways to move when you are wanting to get certain things out of an exercise. It is always important to think about and remember the purpose behind an exercise you are doing.
Let’s look at something as simple as a lunge. Depending on how you initiate movement, how you perform the movement, and where you put pressure on your foot, you can either get a great workout for your glutes or you can work some other area of your body. The same goes for most (if not all) lower body (leg) movements, including squats, deadlifts, RDLs, single leg RDLs, Bulgarian split squats, etc.
You can do all the hip and glute strengthening exercises you want, but unless you are moving in a way to utilize the muscles you are wanting to utilize in a way that is functional for you, you are not getting the benefits you are looking for.
Weakness and poor control in feet
This is an important area that is often missed, especially when someone is attempting to fix an issue with their knees collapsing in.
Do this test for me: Perform a squat by putting the weight on the outside of your feet. Now perform one with all the weight on the inside of your foot, collapsing your arch to the ground. What naturally happens to your knees when you do that? Do you notice the difference?
No, I do not recommend you put your foot in either position when doing movements unless there is a training intention behind it, but I wanted you to see how much impact the foot position has on your knee position. You can strengthen the hips all you want, but until you are able to control what your foot is doing on the ground, it isn’t going to matter. As long as the foot continues to collapse under load, you will not be able to correct your knee positioning and plethora of injuries that are being caused because of it.
The body is not as smart as we like to give it credit for. It moves in whatever ways feel normal and natural to it, regardless if it is the proper way to move. Unless you retrain your body how to move differently, it will not just ‘figure it out.’
There is very little carryover between strengthening and technique correction. For example, you can do all the strengthening you want, but the hip drop you notice when running will not resolve without proper drills to retrain it. The same goes for knees collapsing inward. Your body feels it is normal to move there, that’s how you have trained it for many years. Just because you strengthen the hips (or even the feet), does not mean your body will automatically know you are wanting the knees to stay in a better position now. You have to teach your body that.
Is it harmful or a waste of time to spend time strengthening your hips and glutes. Absolutely not! In fact, I encourage it, as hip strength is important. But I also encourage you to look into what else might be missing in your training. Do you want help finding a better direction for your training? Schedule a free call with Brianne Showman to figure out how you can train differently to become a better athlete.
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