Let’s pretend you have just walked into Club Sport for an appointment with me. This is how the opening conversation usually goes. “Hi, Mike, how’s the _________ (fill in the blank: knee, foot, back, elbow, neck, wrist, etc) feeling? Mike: “Well, my right hip flexor is still bothering me.” I think about this for a moment, mentally review what we did the last time I saw him, ask him what he has tried to alleviate the tightness, and then generally say, “Let’s watch you walk!”
Here is what I recorded as his initial gait pattern. What do you notice? (answer below :). Watch it a few times if you need to, and see if you can put your finger on the left hip to right hip discrepancy.
Here is the “after” video. What do you notice?
Do the hips move more symmetrically now? They sure do. In this case, his right glute had completely gone to sleep– or developed a temporary case of muscle amnesia.
How did we fix it?
Well, in order to answer that question, let’s take a look at the actual juicy bun-buns themselves.
Notice that the direction the lines are drawn, or the actual striations of the muscle itself, are in the direction the muscle contracts. This becomes important because this muscle is not running up and down perpendicular to the ground like a hamstring or a quad. This muscle is running diagonally, or sideways, and should be used when you move sideways or laterally. However, what direction do most people go? Straight ahead.
When life isn’t going well straight ahead, go sideways.
That is my general rule of thumb. What do I mean by that? Well, let’s say your knees hurt when you walk. I find that those quad muscles are getting maxed out, because every muscle only has so many contractile fibers, and because you insist on continuing to move, your body finds a way. However, this quad muscle has maxed it’s muscle fibers, and now starts to yank on the place it attaches– over the top of the knee on the shin. This makes your knee joint sore. Complicating matters further is that the quad’s best friend and antagonist is the hamstring, and if you overuse the quad, the hamstring gets knocked out of commission. This creates further imbalances in the balance of power between the front of the leg and the back of the leg.
Is it a knee problem?
No. At least, generally speaking, the knee is just reacting to the quad getting overused and the hamstring knocked out of commission. So, in the case of Mike above, one way to start rebalancing the power between the front and the back of the leg and hip is to walk sideways. In Mike’s case, even though he is a long-time client and pretty good at realizing when his muscles lose balance, it took us almost ten minutes of walking sideways to get that right glute to re-engage and feel like it was definitively working again.
Here is a quick video explaining how to do that:
My best advice
If you are going to try walking sideways, which is a quick and easy way to get your glutes to engage, the absolutely essential ingredient is to make sure you drive through your heel, and be patient to make sure both glutes work EQUALLY. That is very key! If you have a treadmill, then give it a little incline– around 5%– and set the belt to 0.8mph. Walking sideways is not a speedy endeavor. The hill gives you just a little bit of an advantage to getting your glute to fire faster, but it will work just as well on the ground. Give it a whirl, and let me know below how it went, or if I can answer any questions about your new life as a crab!