The Leg That Looked Like a Fish: When muscle weaknesses cause inefficiencies in your running

When I run my right leg has this really weird tendency to kick-back behind me, it’s a sort of quasi-knock-knee flail that looks like a fish washed up on shore and is trying to flip back to sea. Sounds really pretty, doesn’t it?
puppet on string
Over the years I did a LOT of work on correcting my form, I mean a lot. Runs where I’d be thinking of dropping my left shoulder, keeping my torso tall, making sure my right arm isn’t swinging too low…I imagined myself like a puppet on a string. I ran with arm weights, I counted strides, did core work, weight work, saw ART and massage specialists, hurdle drills and plyo’s all in the quest to be more efficient when I ran. But you know what, NOTHING could explain this wonky fish out of water right leg.

Obviously there were imbalances there, something needed to be strengthened so my leg didn’t have the tendency to collapse inward on itself. We nailed it down to having something to do with the vicinity of my hips, but you know what, I still run with a wonky stride.

Side point…in a hilarious twist of irony, after I got hit by the car and crawled my way back to running all that diligent form work pretty much got erased. See, we all have to start from square one again sometimes. :)

Back on topic, the flailing left leg; it wasn’t until I was reading another article in Running Times that was describing weak glutes and how if those muscles aren’t firing they could be causing inefficiencies, injuries and messed up form. Glutes? Never thought of that one! So I did a few of the little test exercises and you know what, the next day my stupid glutes were sore.

dancer

Flashdance anyone?

Logic then leads me to: my stupid glutes may be responsible for my leg flail. I’ve been doing the exercises to strengthen them so will keep you posted on progress there. However, the point is: we ALL have imbalances and weaknesses that make us inefficient runners.

* Inefficiency = compensation elsewhere = higher injury risk = lost time running
* Inefficiency = slower times = getting beat in races

Hmm, I don’t think any of us like those equations? I just had an article published up on Competitor: ‘The Four Biggest Problem Areas For Runners’ covering the hips, glutes, ankles and hamstrings as the top points of weaknesses for runners.

Chances are you’ve got one, or maybe more, to some degree. Don’t let those weaker muscles cause you problems and don’t let them hold you back from faster PR’s either.

There are lots of exercises for you to try explained the article but here are some quick links I’ve also covered on this site:

* Pedestal Core Routine and Video
* Flexibility Routine and Video (being tight is also going to lead to compensation issues)
* Stability Ball Exercises (there are some glute/hamstring exercises there)

When I run I’d rather not look like my leg is a fish trying to flop back into the sea. How about you?

1) Muscle imbalances and weaknesses, what do you consider your ‘weak’ spot and how have you tried to strengthen it? Or how are you planned to strengthen it?

2) When it comes to form, what is an area there you need to work on? (ie: arm swing, standing tall, stride rate, etc.)

3) If you could liken your running form or self to some kind of random animal or other thing, what would it be? If someone says they run like a beautiful gazelle and have nary an issue, I’m going to call BS on you…OR as you what kind of form work you did to look so perfect. ;)

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20 thoughts on “The Leg That Looked Like a Fish: When muscle weaknesses cause inefficiencies in your running

  1. Congratulations on the article! I am definitely going to try some of the hip exercises as they get really tight and sore after a long run and I think they might be my weak spot. I don’t run like a gazelle, oh how I wish! I run more like an old chimp: lots of bouncing around and arms swinging – oh and hooting and hollering too when I am listening to the right kind of music :)

  2. The article is great. And it’s a really important point. I’ve had my fair share of figuring out imbalances this year. Grr. It was glutes (and now I’ve let those slide again!) and then adductors, ad tight hips…

    Still working on it – it’s a continual work in progress that you know all too well! x

    • we are all works in progress…and if i may say so you are ROCKING the progress! i’m continually impressed by ur learning curve of the sport, u’re lightyears ahead of where i was!

  3. My biggest struggle is my R IT Band.. That stupid thing is SO cranky! I do A LOT of stretching after every run. I started doing a yoga class for stretching hips/back/hamstrings, & I started lifting weights – hoping all these things will let me survive a race season with out relying on KT tape.

  4. Weak glutes here! Yep apparently that has caused some of my previous woes (ITB, ITB, ITB).

    I do my corrective exercises on the Bosu once per week… I know its only a token effort but I figure its better than nothing and I seem to be on top of ITB.

    Super sad but I can do my exercises while singing “The Hokey Pokey” to keep the little guy entertained. One day he will realise the real Hokey Pokey doesn’t put your left leg in 20 Tim

  5. Weak glutes here! Yep apparently that has caused some of my previous woes (ITB, ITB and ITB again).

    I do my corrective exercises on the Bosu once per week… I know its only a token effort but I figure its better than nothing and I seem to be on top of ITB at moment.

    Super sad but I can do my exercises while singing “The Hokey Pokey” to keep the little guy entertained. One day he will realise the real Hokey Pokey doesn’t ” put your left leg in” 20 Times!!!!!!

    Love your equations… So true!!!

  6. I have weak hips. And imbalance like every body else. I have been to PT for 6 months to strengthen my hips and the imbalances (along with running outside. Treadmills = weak hamstrings from what I understand). I think the best thing I learned was ankle weights. Work all 4 sides of your leg with those bad boys. (Added bonus, you work your core the whole time).

    I would like to fix my stride. I think that I don’t extend as far as I could.

    • YES on the treadmill causing weak hammies! i’ve told my friends who are treadmill addicts that they better do something to counteract the weak hammies! :)

  7. OMGosh, this is so me too! I don’t FEEL weird running, but when I see a picture of myself I am like, “Whaaaa?!” It’s crazy! And I hate it…mainly because I feel like it looks goofy on me;) I have wondered many times how I could fix it, or if I could fix it. I’ll have to try some of your suggestions! Well, later I guess…talk about starting at square one-I’m was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer 4 years ago and had surgeries, chemo, radiation, and am still on hormone therapy but just couldn’t handle the mastectomy emotionally/mentally at the time. So I’m doing it now. In two weeks I’m having a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. So I will spend my time recovering and researching how to come back stronger;);)

    • haha..i kno right?!? same thing with my face, i look at pix and think, “omg, i look like a psycho!” :P that said i’m sending u ALL of my best vibes for ur mastectomy! u are being SOO brave and doing wat is so important for ur health and for ur family!!! the road ahead will be filled with emotions and obstacles but u CAN get thru them, remember that u’re stronger than u think but when u’re not u have others to lean on!! XOXO

  8. My form has been a freaking disaster over the last year which is probably why I got compartment syndrome. I suppose if it feels like your left leg is going numb, your shin feels like its’ going to explode AND it feels like you are dragging your leg you probably should stop running. Lesson learned- listen to your body. For the last 5 months I have been doing form drills so that I run on my forefoot and not heel strike. It has been so freaking hard, but I am finally getting the hang of it. I even just posted some form improvement pictures on my last blog post:
    http://healthydivaontherun.blogspot.com/2012/10/friday-favorites-tale-of-2-pictures.html

    • oh man, compartment is a beast!! i’m so happy u’re finding ur way back to running pain free and strengthening the body to beat that horrible shin ache! :)PS- shoes also have a pretty big bearing on compartment, i’m sure u’re wise to that one too and in supportive shoes. :)

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