7/7/11

Hip Strength and Total Immersion

"Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs."
Henry Ford

Life is all about the journey....I suppose this is my motto and the way I want to live my life. While many people want results immediately, I love putting together all the little pieces in order to create the big picture. Not only do you discover amazing things about yourself when you work towards an end goal but you learn how to live a more balanced life. Sometimes there is no end goal but you welcome a new outlook on life at every stage in the journey. For every day we are making choices that impact tomorrow and the future.

Last night I attended the monthly Hammerhead Triathlon Club meeting and listened to a talk on Total Immersion (TI). Familiar with the concept, it was interesting to hear a certified coach discuss the results of TI and how athletes and new swimmers are benefiting from the program.

From the website (http://www.totalimmersion.net)
TI teaches you to swim with the effortless grace of fish by becoming one with the water. Swimmers come to us with the goal of swimming faster. They quickly learn that it’s far more beneficial and satisfying to swim with grace, flow, and economy…and that speed will surely follow when they master ease. You’ll feel the difference from your very first lap of intelligent, purposeful TI practice and get more satisfaction from every lap that follows.

This video demonstrates the efficiency and skill of using TI. For all of us triathletes as well as future triathletes who are afraid of the swim, I have always said that it's all about efficiency. You don't have to be a fast swimmer to complete a triathlon. By swimming efficient, you will have more energy for the bike, thus more energy throughout the entire triathlon.



As for those of you who enjoy staying on land, I had briefly discussed on my blog, my past issues with my hips. For it was just a few months ago that I began running for the first time after not running for over 10 weeks during the last few months of my dietetic internship. Struggling with rt. hip pain and weak glutes for the past 3 years, I was very shocked when I became injured on my left side...the side of my body that never seemed to get injured.

Because I am not perfect and do not strive to be perfect, I had my share of downs throughout my internship. Feeling overwhelmed and stressed from the demands of my internship, it saddened me not to run as I find exercise a necessary component of my lifestyle.
However, recognizing that I do not have to "train" to be healthy, I stuck to the elliptical, pool (swimming and water jogging) and weight room in order to exercise. Most workouts lasted around an hour and compared to my liking of a hard push during workouts, I knew it was important to focus on my internship and finding the root of my problem. While many athletes believe that rest is the answer to an injury, I believe in taking the necessary steps to build strength and confidence in order to return to activity. With balance in mind, a 15 minute strength workout (most days a week) helped me return to running with a stronger body than before and no fears of re-injury.

The hips are often an overlooked component of exercise/training, specifically with triathletes. Often we blame our quads, hamstrings or ITB but don't pay much attention to the working horse of most of our movements. While the core is the foundation of a strong body, the hips are used on a daily basis, no matter what the activity. Whether we are sitting for long periods or training for running/triathlons, we need to strengthen and lengthen our hip flexors.

I believe that many athletes have incredibly weak or tight hip flexors, as well as surrounding muscles. Specifically, the Iliopsoas (consisting of the Iliacus and the Psoas Major) as well as the piriformis. To start my rehab program (which I designed myself), I made sure I progressed with exercises that did not give me pain. It was a LONG journey, but I knew where I wanted to be and I was willing to be patient and smart.

Starting with flexibility work (yoga/pilates) I made sure I stretched my hip flexors as often as possible. With all the sitting that I was doing in the hospital, I was getting extremely tight and sore (particularly, in my lower back). Ever night I would come home and do the following basic exercises found on this page:
Hip Strength
I would do #3, #5 (I modified this by marching with my legs in a bridge position) and #6 almost immediately when I returned from home and I would do several 5-second holds for 1-2 minutes. I then progressed to #4 (with a light weight behind my knee) and did 10-20 reps on each leg (2-3 sets). I do not do standard crunches any more and avoid doing motions that force my body to "crunch" together. My focus is on opening the hips, not closing them (like in sitting - although I stand up and stretch a lot when I sit).

My goal was to get as close as I could to gaining equal strength in both of my legs as my past injury in my rt leg left me a little weaker on one side of my body (thus my left side was used a lot more when running and cycling).
Once I felt stronger, I resisted the urge to run as I still had a lot more work to do in the weight room in order to reduce the risk of re-injury.
3 times a week I would do the following (in addition to the above hip stretches) for around 30 minutes:
Bench step-ups (progressed from a bosu to a step at knee-height)
Single leg deadlifts
Single leg curl
Single leg extension
Standing leg abduction on bosu (lifting leg away from the body)
Side planks with leg adbuction (lifting top leg up and down)

I would do 10-15 reps and would repeat the cycle 2-3 times. Although the exercises got easier, it was important that I focused on good form in order to really target the glutes as well as my weak hamstrings. I'm happy to say that I am running pain-free and really enjoying running off the bike (all of my runs are off the bike, 3-4 days a week). I still focus on my daily hip exercises and I never take for granted how important it is to spend a little time in the weight room (or at home) strengthening the body. Plus, I just love having another great reason to enjoy my post workout milk or yogurt as my body, muscles and bones LOVE the calcium and protein.

Here are two interesting articles that you may enjoy reading. If you have any questions or would like to provide your feedback (what has helped you?) I'd love to hear your comments (or send me an email).
Hamstring dominance
Too much sitting

*While strength training, massage and flexibility work are vital components in an every-day exercise or training routine, it is important that you consult a doctor and/or a physical therapist rather than trying to self-diagnose and treat your injury. In the long run, you will save more money, time and stress by consulting with an expert rather than googling forums.