How to Prepare Your Winter Body for Spring Marathon Training
Every season presents its own challenges for runners. While most Seacoast runners run year round, running in the winter months can be especially tough. Uneven, snow packed, roads and trails, icy streets and sidewalks often result in muscle aches, pains and sometimes injuries. Even using microspikes for added traction can throw off your gait by a small fraction that can lead to muscle imbalance and eventually pain if not dealt with.
Some runners even go into the winter months with a minor ache or pain that they have ignored until it turns into a full injury that prevents them from running all together.
But that doesn’t always have to be the case.
Here are 4 key muscle groups to pay extra attention to this winter so you can get you off and running on the right foot this spring.
Psoas - The psoas (pronounced so-as) is located deep in the abdominals and it’s not a muscle that you can access easily. It connects to the lower lumbar spine, crosses the pelvis and inserts itself on the inner edge of the femur.
In my opinion, one of the most important muscles for a runner. It also has a lot of responsibility as far as movement. It assists in flexion and lateral rotation of the thigh at the hip. It flexes the trunk forward and to the same side laterally.
Because of its many actions, people mistakenly refer to this muscle as a hip flexor since its secondary function is to flex or bend the leg at the hip, but in reality, it’s main job is to stabilize the pelvis.
Runners who have weak core strength often experience back pain or pain deep in the hip. This is because the psoas is either too active or not active enough which leads to injury.
Stretching this muscle might feel good, but might not be what your psoas needs which is why it often only gives you temporary relief.
Adductors - Your adductors (the muscles of your inner thighs) are made up of 5 key muscles. Adductor Magnus, Brevis, and Longus, Pectinius and Gracillis. They, along with the psoas stabilize the pelvis. If your pelvis is not stable, the adductors tighten up to compensate for the lack of stability in the psoas. It also causes an imbalance with the glutes. This eventually leads to bigger muscle groups like the quadriceps dominating the action necessary to move a joint and keeps the dysfunctional muscles in a holding pattern.
Tensor Fascia Lata (TFL) - This small, but mighty muscle sits in the front of your hip just above your pants pocket. When runners tell me their hips flexors are tight or painful that are often talking about the TFL. Loosening these muscles might also help if your IT Band is a little cranky since along with the lateral fibers of your gluteus maximus, these two muscles control your IT Band.
The main reason why runners experience pain in their hip flexors is not because they are “tight” it’s because they are screaming for a break from the action. They are compensating for weakness in the glutes or psoas from too much sitting.
You’ve likely heard that “sitting is the new smoking!”
Well, that’s not exactly true.
It’s not the act of sitting that will kill you, it’s sitting for long periods of time with no movement in between.
Glutes and lateral hip rotators - If your back hurts, it’s your butt’s fault.
Pain in the glutes can cause pain in the low back, the hips, and even the quads. Weak and underactive glutes can also sometimes be the cause of dysfunction in the hamstrings since improper firing patterns can cause the hamstrings to become overactive leading to tightness and sometimes muscle strains.
The lateral hip rotators which also includes the piriformis, can cause a literal pain in the butt and/or sciatic like pain that travels down the leg that make running very uncomfortable.
Muscle imbalance in the glutes and lateral hip rotators can also cause pain and instability in your SI (sacroiliac) joint since all of these muscles connect to your sacrum or the bone between your 5th Lumbar vertebrae and your coccyx or tailbone.
So now that you know what muscles to target, what do you actually do with them? This is a tricky question to answer because it depends on whether your muscles are weak or overactive. If they are overactive, foam rolling and stretching is the key to happiness if they are weak, isolated strengthening exercises to help balance the load on complementary muscles groups is the way to go.
Some simple assessment tests can help determine which muscles need lengthening and which ones need strengthening. If you need help determining your needs, schedule a free phone consultation to see if working with a running specialist like Knead to Run is right for you.