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Triathlon Success: Hamstring And Glute Togetherness

To keep a triathlete healthy and resilient, the hamstrings and gluteal muscles must work together as a team.   The athlete fires the gluteals and hamstrings simultaneously to stabilize the pelvis and produce force through the lower leg.  When you run, bicycle, or swim, these muscles work at a team to produce efficient propulsion and reduce stress on the lumbar spine and knee.  A triathalon is the ultimate long duration physical endeavor.  Triathletes need hamstrings and gluteal muscles that can stay on and strong for a long time.

Most fitness programs do not properly train the muscle of the posterior chain.  Fitness center exercise generally involves training the hamstrings as knee flexors on some type of “leg curl” machine.  Gluteal training rarely occurs past neutral hip extension, with little effort on improving overall hip range of motion.  Any type of seated gluteal training is inappropriate for an athlete.

The term physical therapists and strength coaches use for butt muscles that are non- responsive is “gluteal amnesia”.  Our sedentary lifestyle involves very little of the glute recruiting sprinting, deep squatting, and climbing that activates the gluteal muscles.  We mistreat our gluteal muscles with hours of compressive sitting and little in the way of full range hip movement.  Many fitness clients and most physical therapy patients need some remedial gluteal training.  Give these three drills a place in your triathalon training program.

Single Leg Bridges

Lay supine with the arms braced against the floor to stabilize the upper body.   Bend the knees and place the feet flat on the ground.  Lift the right leg up off the ground.  Using the muscles in the back of the left leg, lift the hips up off the ground.  Push up through the heel of the left foot and drive the left hip into full extension.  Hold at the top for three seconds and then lower in a controlled manner.  Perform ten repetitions on each leg.  Common mistakes are allowing the pelvis to tilt and not fully extending the hip.  Hamstring cramping is an indication that you are not using the glutes enough and need to focus on creating a better mind to butt connection.

Goblet Squat

The squat movement pattern is a skill that is easier to teach if you add some load.  You can use either a dumbbell or a kettlebell for this exercise.  It has been my experience that the exercise is easier to learn with a kettlebell.  Hold a kettlebell by the horns, with the elbows down, and the kettlebell close to the chest.  Keep the chest proud and pull the abdominal muscles tight.  You may have to experiment with foot placement as everyone has different hips.  The position you would place the feet if you were going to jump is a good starting point.  Initiate the squat by pushing back the hips.  Keep the torso tall and descend.  Let your pelvis fall between the hips. The elbow should drop down between the knees.  Nothing will inhibit your progress more than thinking about how you are moving during goblet squats.  Keep your brain quiet and get in some repetitions.  Effort has amazing capacity to improve motor control.   Perform ten repetitions.

Mini Band Monster Walk

Your will need a mini resistance band–a nine inch loop of resistance band, (two dollars from performbetter.com).  Most fitness clients will do well with a green or yellow mini band.  Place the mini band loop around both legs just above the ankles.  Assume an athletic stance with the feet straight ahead, knees bent, and hips flexed.  The band should be held taught throughout the exercise.  Imagine your feet are standing on railroad tracks.  Walk forward for ten steps on each side, keeping the feet over the railroad tracks.  Walk backward for five repetitions on each leg.  Try to keep the hips and shoulders level throughout the exercise.

Once you have mastered all three exercises, build your gluteal and hamstring performance by traveling through the program for two or three trips.

  1. single leg bridges  R and L x 10
  2. goblet squats x 10
  3. mini band monster walk x 10 each leg

View video of the exercises here: https://youtu.be/QeteeLPF4AU

Kat Wood, DPT, ATC

Triathlon Success: Core Connection

In the fitness world core stability training has gained a solid foothold and more people are getting away from spinal damaging resisted twisting machines and the ever present sit up gizmo.  Most people know how to perform a “plank” exercise and have added this drill to their fitness routines.  Learning how to properly brace the core stabilizers and perform a sustained plank type isometric exercise will resolve back pain, improve the hip to shoulder girdle connection, and make you a better movement machine.  The problem is most people never advance beyond the basic plank exercise.  Triathletes need significant anti-rotation and anti-extension core strength and endurance.  I have three drills that will help keep you strong and resilient in your quest to complete you first tri.    Read the directions and give these activities a place in your fitness program.

Alternate Single Arm Planks

Position the body in a toes and elbows plank, but separate the legs so the feet are wider than the shoulders.  Lift one arm up at a 45 degree angle in relation to your body and hold for five seconds.  Lower the arm back down and try the other arm.

If you are unable to perform the alternate arm plank on the floor, regress the exercise by placing the hands on a bench in a push ups position.  Lift one arm up at a 45 degree angle in relation to your body and hold for five seconds.  Lower the arm back down and try the other arm.  How many and much?  Perform three to five repetitions on each arm.  Work up to longer hold times instead of more repetitions.  Five repetitions on each arm with a ten second hold is a good goal.

Pallof Press

You need a cable machine or resistance tubing set at mid torso level.   Position your body at a 90 degree angle in relation to the pull of the cable.  Assume an athletic posture with the feet at least shoulder width apart and the spine neutral.  Push the hips back a little and keep a slight bend in the ankles and knees.  You should look like a tennis player preparing to return an opponent’s serve.  Use a strong overlap grip on the handle and set the hands in the middle of the chest.  Brace the midsection and hips and move the handle out in front of the body and then back to the chest.  Select a resistance level that permits execution of all repetitions without losing the set up posture.  If one side is more difficult, start the exercise on that side.  Perform fifteen repetitions on each side.

Many of us have terrible respiratory patterns.  We are unable to fully inhale and exhale when under any physical stress.  The Pallof Press can be used to improve respiratory control.  Use the same set up and press the cable out.  Hold the cable with the arm fully extended while inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds.  Bring the arms back in and then repeat.  Perform four of five inhale / exhale respiration repetitions on each side.

View the video here: View Video

 Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Spine Unwind

An Exercise That Prevents Lumbar Rotation

Your brain is a master of physical manipulation.  It has the capacity to move your body by any means necessary.  If your hips and thoracic spine are stiff, weak, and unable to rotate, it will demand rotation from your lumbar spine.  Frequent and excessive rotation at the lumbar spine is never good.  The five lumbar vertebrae are only able to handle 10-13 degrees of total rotation before bad things start happening.  In our treatment of patients with chronic lower back pain, our physical therapists work to restore thoracic spine / hip mobility and reduce rotational movement in the lumbar spine.  Lower back pain can be trained away with better control of excessive lumbar rotation.  One of our favorite anti-rotation core stability exercises is the Pallof Press.  This exercise deserves a greater presence in the programs of the general fitness population.

PALLOF PRESS
Why You Should Do It
Nearly everyone can perform a Pallof Press.  If you can stand up without assist, you can perform the Pallof Press.  Physical therapy patients start with light loads and usually progress quickly.
It is one of the few exercises that will strengthen the abdominal / back muscles that resist rotation of the lumbar spine and improve hip stability at the same time.
The Pallof Press develops the proprioceptive awareness you need for better posture.  It is a great exercise for those suffering from the epidemic of SNSS -soggy noodle spine syndrome.
It can also be used to teach better breathing patterns.

Performance
You need a cable machine or resistance tubing set at mid torso level.   Position your body at a 90 degree angle in relation to the pull of the cable.  Assume an athletic posture with the feet at least shoulder width apart and the spine neutral.  Push the hips back a little and keep a slight bend in the ankles and knees.  You should look like a tennis player preparing to return an opponent’s serve.  Use a strong overlap grip on the handle and set the hands in the middle of the chest.  Brace the midsection and hips and move the handle out in front of the body and then back to the chest.  Select a resistance level that permits execution of all repetitions without losing the set up posture.  If one side is more difficult, start the exercise on that side.  Perform fifteen repetitions on each side.

Progressions
Many of us have terrible respiratory patterns.  We are unable to fully inhale and exhale when under any physical stress.  The Pallof Press can be used to improve respiratory control.  Use the same set up and press the cable out.  Hold the cable with the arm fully extended while inhaling for four seconds and exhaling for six seconds.  Bring the arms back in and then repeat.  Perform four of five inhale / exhale respiration repetitions on each side.
You can make the exercise more difficult by adding more resistance, but I like to use a change in the base of support as the initial progression.   Assume a split stance and perform the Pallof Press with one leg forward and one leg back.  The half kneeling Pallof Press is an excellent injury prevention exercise.  During this exercise you want a firm anchor to the ground so avoid the Bosu, Physioball, and other circus versions of this exercise.

Michael S. O’Hara, P.T., OCS, CSCS

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