Strength & Conditioning: Get Resilient or Get Injured

posted Oct 27, 2011, 12:21 PM by Elaine Vescio   [ updated Oct 13, 2016, 8:18 AM ]
If we polled triathletes, my guess is that the majority of experienced triathletes would agree that strength and conditioning exercises are important for injury prevention and sports performance. Yet a good percentage of those athletes neglect to regularly include S&C in their training.....until they get injured. Then eventually they visit a physical therapist, do enough of the exercises to get rid of the injury symptoms, and slowly regress into neglecting S&C until the next injury rears its ugly head. Ah and the cycle continues. But it doesn't have to be this way.  

The off season is a good time to break this cycle by incorporating exercises into your routine that address muscle weaknesses and imbalances that tend to plague most triathletes. The result...a more resilient body that can better withstand the rigors of multisport training. Disclaimer: You need to do the exercises on a regular basis for it to work.  

For this post, I will focus on the gluteus medius, a broad, thick muscle that plays an important role in stabilizing the pelvis and lower extremity when a person is standing on one foot while running or walking.
In this picture, notice in Figure B how a weakness of the right gluteus medius can cause the left hip to drop when standing on the right leg. Now imagine this repeating itself during a sixty minute run. Of course, many athletes tend to be 'effective' at compensating and unconsciously keep the pelvis in neutral by adducting and internally rotating the lower leg. As a result, a weak gluteus medius contributes to runners having issues with iliotibial band, knee, and ankle injuries. 

Now you may be thinking, "I am a triathlete. I crosstrain. How could I have a weak muscle anywhere, especially in my butt?" Unless you have been doing functional strength training on a regular basis, you probably have a whole bunch of weak muscles and muscle imbalances because swimming, biking, and running are done in the sagittal plane (moving forward). Triathletes can make significant gains if they include some training done in the frontal (lateral movements like a crab moving sideways) and transverse (like a golf swing) planes. I'll cover those types of exercises in future posts; for now we'll focus on that butt muscle. 

The best way to address weak gluteus medius muscles is to start with very basic exercises and progress from there. I know. There's a heck of a lot more satisfaction in completing a long run or popping off some squats with a couple of big plates on the bar. But that's not going to help this critical muscle and might even hurt you. Here are two exercises that will allow you to isolate and strengthen your gluteus medius: (1) the clam exercise, and (2) the hip bridge. 

(1) The Clam Exercise
  • While lying on your side with a resistance band above your knees, keep both knees bent and flex the hips to 30 degrees.
  • While keeping your heels touching and pelvis still, open your knees by contracting your gluteus medius. This is a very slow, small and targeted movement.
  • Place your hand on your gluteus medius (just below and behind your hip) to ensure that it is firing during the movement.
  • Repeat the movement slowly 10 to 15 times and switch sides. Do 3 sets. 

(2) The Hip Bridge

  • Lie on your back, feet flat and hip width apart with a resistance band above your knees. Your arms are relaxed at your sides, and your knees are bent. 
  • Pull your belly button into your spine and squeeze your buttocks as you lift your hips creating a straight line from your hips to your shoulders. 
  • Keep your left knee still while opening and closing your right knee for 10. Keep your hips raised the entire time. Then do 10 reps of opening and closing your left knee while keeping your right knee still. Do 3 sets. 
  • Next drop your hips 5 inches towards the ground, pause, and then raise back to the starting position. Repeat for 10. Do 3 sets. 

The total time to do both these exercises is about 10 minutes. So just 10 minutes, three times a week would give you the benefit that you need to strengthen a muscle you may never have known existed but that may have been contributing to your injuries.