Running: The Importance of Muscle Activation and Utilizing Your Off-Season

Erin Shaw off season training.jpgRunning- like any sport- requires your body to have a well-built foundation in order for you to keep excelling at the sport. What I mean by a well-built foundation is having a strong and powerful kinetic chain that works together to improve your overall performance. Most athletes have the tools or knowledge they require to advance within their sport, but many of us are stubborn and our time is valuable. We spend so much time practicing our actual sport that sometimes stretching, rolling and cross training get neglected. A while back I talked about Avoiding Injuries With Stretching and Foam Rolling and briefly touched on the subject of muscle activation to further prevent injuries.

What is muscle activation? Clearly I am activating all my muscles because running is a full body sport right? Well not exactly.  Muscle activation is exactly what it sounds like, simply getting a muscle to fire. Some muscles are stubborn (Hello, Glutes!) and tend to take a little extra work to activate, this doesn’t only apply to glutes but we’ll pick on them for now. Well I am doing squats and lunges so that must mean I’m activating my glutes right? Once again, not exactly! There are a couple answers as to why:

1) If you experience any kind of tightness in your hips and don’t work on stretching or rolling out your hips you are going to have a really hard time getting your glutes to fire. Muscles work in opposition of each other, a tight hip flexor can pull you forward, causing your glutes to be lengthened.

2) Your glutes may fire but are overshadowed by other muscles ex. the quadriceps.

3) Posture: if you have an excessive pelvic tilt (anterior or posterior) this can inhibit glute muscle recruitment. These muscles need to have the muscle that opposes them loosened off for optimal recruitment, and then the muscle you are targeting needs to be isolated i.e. hip thrusts. From there you can add in compound movements i.e. a squat or a lunge to further target the glutes.

It is important to utilize cross training and your off-season to become a better athlete. Think of your body at the peak of your running season, you want it to be a well-oiled machine; you want to be the best you can be and avoid injuries and setbacks. Proper cross training and allowing for your body to properly activate your weak points can improve your performance overall. Would you like to slouch less and open up your chest as your tack on your mileage? How about have looser hips, minimal to no knee pain, to have less core rotation as you run? All these variables can be worked on with proper recovery, stretching, rolling and strengthening and conditioning your body to perform optimally.

 

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