Have you ever noticed how we start shuffling along as we age? Our steps shorten, we don’t raise our feet up, and we lose balance and stability. At the same time, we develop lower back and knee pain or injuries.
Well, all this is completely reversible and avoidable!
The imbalance and limited range of motion is almost always attributed to weakness in the trunk, legs, and hips – and particularly the glutes!
The glutes contain three muscles, the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. The glutes are one of the largest and potentially most powerful muscles in the body.
Imagine trying to lift a heavy object off the floor using just the lower back, the bottom part of the spine and the limited amount of muscles around it.
Imagine spending most of your day on your feet, with just the knee joint and the few muscles around it, supporting all your weight.
Now imagine using all the muscles from the thighs to the back of the hips assisting with these activities.
Our daily lives, consisting frequently of sitting at a desk, sitting in a car, and sitting once more when we get home, have rendered our glutes unnaturally weak. Worse than that, we have lost our mind-body connection with the glutes!
In addition to reduced activity, we do very little lateral movement – stepping side-to-side.
This type of movement, as the legs move out from the midline of the body, is referred to as abduction. The glutes are the major muscle group responsible for leg abduction.
So, now that we know the problem, the symptoms, the most common cause, and the important terms, all that’s left is the resolution.
My first recommendation would be to find any and every excuse to stand and walk. Luckily, as a trainer, I am on my feet for a good part of the day, but some common tactics for others would be:
• When you get home at the end of the day, walk outside for 15 minutes before going into your house.
• Drink more water, resulting in more walking to and from the bathroom. (This is a win-win because most of us don’t drink enough water either!)
• If you happen to be going somewhere less than a mile away, walk rather than drive.
• Get a FitBit or other step-tracking program. Some contain a social element that may also be motivating and fun.
My second recommendation involves doing direct work for the glutes and hips during training.
• The easiest movement to start with is commonly known as “clamshells”. Lay on one side, with your hips back and your knees bent. Place one foot on top of another and, while keeping the inside of the feet touching, separate the knees as far as is comfortable and slowly return. Imagine a clam opening its shell – this should be similar to the motion of your knees.
• Another easy exercise to do is “side-steps”. Assume a similar position, knees bent, hips back, feet close together, but this time, standing. Step the right leg a foot or two to the right, and slowly follow with the left leg. Count each step by both feet as one repetition, and do the same number to return to where you started.
• Finally, there are more complicated movements such as squatting with a wide stance and an elastic band around the knees, or attaching cables from pulley machines to straps around the ankles.
• I would recommend avoiding the “abduction machine” however. It puts undue stress on the joint, in an unnatural position for the abductors to engage, and allows too much weight to be used, too quickly, leading to faulty technique.
If you are a visual or auditory learner like me, you can also go on YouTube or Google and search the name of these various movements. Just remember, keep the hips back and the knees bent so they don’t pass beyond the toes.
These exercises will also have excellent transference to any sport that requires sideways motion, such as skiing and skating.
And, with that, you now know what you can do to improve your posture, gait, balance, and the health of your lower back and knees. Give it a try and see how you feel after a month or so!