Chronically injured and disheartened, a Runner's World editor sought holistic help from a team of therapists. Her diagnosis (sleeping glutes?) and hard-won lessons (master the clamshell) can help you, too, stay healthy, happy, and on the road.
I'm lying facedown on an exam table at a state-of-the-art running clinic in New York City, about to perform a basic exercise for professional analysis. "Okay, Katie, I'd like you to lift your right leg in the air, using your glutes," says Colleen Brough, P.T., M.S., the physical therapist who's there to check my strength and form.
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No problem, I think. She places her hand on my right hamstring—my achy, troublesome one—as I lift and then lower my leg back down to the table with minimal effort and an attitude of That's all? "You contracted your hamstring as well as your back," Brough says gently. "Try again, but this time, power the move with your glutes by squeezing your butt before and while doing the lift."
Okay, got it. Simple enough. But it isn't. Impossible, actually. I lie there motionless, slowly coming to the realization that clenching your face doesn't help you clench your butt cheeks. Forget lifting the leg. I am entirely unable to activate my glutes, a fact Brough describes with one cruel but apt word: "Astonishing."
Similar running clinics at medical centers around the country put participants through an assessment aimed at identifying areas of weaknesses with the goal of preventing injury. (Find a list at runnersworld.com/runningclinics.) One of the first was RunSafe, which launched in 2008 at the University of California at San Francisco and now has three locations throughout the state and one in Boston.
All the data from the testing and the expert huddle go into your take-home report, e-mailed to you a few weeks later, which you can then take to your own local physical therapist to start a rehab routine, if necessary. At 31 pages, my document is epic. And fascinating (at least to me).
Although it's filled with notations about—and photographic evidence of—my many flaws (heel-striker on left, midfoot-striker on right; excessive trunk rotation; excessive pelvic drop; inefficient arm swing; inefficient forward lean), the experts concluded that I'm 100 percent fixable. My hamstring pain, they told me, is the result of glute and pelvic weakness, which I can resolve with physical therapy.