Or even better – prevent shin splints
How do we fix or prevent shin splints? Let’s explain the shins in detail first. Here is a photo of the shin muscle, the tibialis anterior. (literally translated: the front of the tibia)
It’s really not very big, is it? The pain comes from repetitive stress to the shinbone and connective tissues that attach that muscle to the bone. They pull away from each other, and hurt. No fun! 🙁 The burning question in everyone’s mind is: Why?
Why do they pull away and hurt?
Here’s what I think: The important thing to keep in mind is that the shin muscle is the body’s third choice muscle to pick the leg up!
If you are using the third choice muscle to pick the leg up are you super efficient?
Are you super powerful?
Are you super fast?
Not for long, anyway. It hurts too much!
Sprinters are in a bit of a conundrum, because of two big factors:
- You are wearing spikes which weirdly jack up just the front of your feet and make you walk funny while wearing them and
- We know from our one big tip for sprinters (see my blog post about that here ) that we want that toe pulled toward that shin when working on good sprinting form.
So you need that little anterior tib to work to pull the foot toward the shin for form, but not to try and pick the whole darn leg up! Other sports also use that muscle in various ways. For instance, in soccer your ankle is supposed to be locked when you kick a ball with the inside of the foot, and that is accomplished by pulling the toes towards the front of the leg. That is a great use of that anterior tib muscle. However, it gets overused quickly when it also is trying to do that and attempt the picking-up-the-leg work.
Your second choice
If the anterior tib is the body’s third choice, what is the body’s second choice?
This is actually a grouping of four different muscles. Notice it attaches to the front of the outside of the hip, and then all the tendons come together (and not pictured here) go over the kneecap and attach to the front of the tibia.
That is fine, but it still is the body’s second choice. Not as efficient, strong, or centrally located as the body’s first choice. Not to mention that the quad might get too tight and start to interfere with the ability of the hamstring to work, or clamp down on the knee joint since it attaches on the front of the tibia. Those are other problems, and easily fixed, but not our focus here.
First choice muscle? The hip flexor!
I have blogged about the iliopsoas ( read my blog about it here ) before ( that is the fancy name) and I will tell you flat out: this muscle should be the main leg-picker-upper and when it is working you can instantly relieve the pressure and workload taking place in the shins.
Here is a picture of Sarah sprinting, and using her hip flexor to pick her leg up:
How do we fix ourselves?
So how do we release the pressure off of those calves and shins? What did I have those kids do on the infield of the track? Two simple exercises.
- Kneeling Ankle Squeezes – kneeling, and put something firm inbetween your ankles and heels, but not your knees. Squeeze and release the ball, or roller as pictured here, with your ankles and heels trying to feel your calves, hamstrings, and glutes work to a burn equally. Don’t let your back help, exhale with every squeeze, and try 2-3 sets of 90 seconds.
- Single Leg Squat Touchdown
Hang onto something for balance with your right hand. Stand on your right foot with your left hand in the air. Hinge at the HIP by shooting your booty waaaay back and feel your hip flexor in the front of the crease of the hip tighten up, and then drive thru your heel as you stand back up to feel your glute and hamstring kick in. I shot a video and you can see it in real time here:
Let us know how you did in the comments below. Any trouble running? This isn’t the first time I have recommended these exercises!