I started writing this post a number of months ago. I was actually prompted to write it after a trip to Sydney to visit a friend. We did a session at the gym and she commented I had no bum. A lot of girls would take this as a compliment, but I was horrified! Considering your glutes is one of the largest and strongest muscles in your body, plus brings a lot of power to running and cycling, I want and need a big one! With an inactive glutes I risk injuring myself, over using other muscles, plus potentially not running or cycling to my full ability. Her comment has been in my mind since and has made me more acutely aware if I am engaging my muscles adequately.
The past few months I have been through quite a bit in regards to training. In April I was the fittest and fastest I had ever been in my life, culminating in the series win of the Gatorade Series, to breaking my collarbone and taking months off training and cancelling all races I had planned. This year has seen me go from sky high to dirt low. But it has given me a great chance to stop, assess and re-tune things in my training I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.
So the question is; are you engaging your muscles? You would assume so. If you’re like me, you’re sore after a big session. You can physically feel your muscles are more defined and larger from the months or years of training. You’re setting new PB’s so your muscles must be engaging. Right?
When I was in Sydney Alex my girlfriend took me through a full body workout at her local gym, Riley St Gym. [It was previously Russell Crowe’s gym, and I was honestly in gym heaven. Although I haven’t spent much time in gyms, I know a good thing when I see one! With only 98 members and about 1000m2 big, the place is amazing. I highly recommend to anyone in Sydney to try and get in for a session!] With little strength training experience I really enjoyed Alex’s session and the new and varied exercises. The most interesting and important part of the session was learning where my strengths and weaknesses lied. I discovered three key things:
- My glutes was inactive;
- My back strength is imbalanced. Alex took me through a set of chin ups where we started with our hands close in, then progressed further out. Close in I struggled, further out I flew through.
- My left arm is significantly weaker.
These things were so apparent, and this was discovered by just doing a few things with a friend. This was back in April. Since then I spent two weeks in Thailand at the Thanyapura training resort where I met Michael Gilliam (aka MG). MG is Chris McCormack’s right hand man (if you have read Here to Win you will know all about him). And you can see why, his knowledge is mind blowing. MG told me to squat all the way down (i.e. bum on ground practically), but ensuring my feet remain shoulder width apart and straight forward. I couldn’t do it.
A few weeks later (after breaking my collarbone) I noticed the muscle wastage of my right trap. Of course this makes sense as I hadn’t used my right arm plus wasn’t swimming, but to see such a significant change in such a short time was eye opening. If for example you cycle 150km’s a week but are imbalanced, say your right hamstring is taking the load and not your left, imagine the result after months of training.
Finally, the past six weeks have seen me attend a weekly PT session with Amber from First Wave Fitness (refer earlier post). I thought I was going to see a PT to push big weights and get powerful, but Amber has quickly shown me that I need to get balanced and engage all my muscles. Most of the exercises I do with Amber can be done at home just with an elastic band – no need for expensive gym memberships or equipment! Within three weeks I could squat like MG showed me. I can feel my glutes and hamstrings engaging when I cycle. And my left hip has had less issues (refer earlier post).
The past few months have further enhanced the realization of how important strength training is. I had previously posted about prehabilitation, focusing more on stretching and flexibility. Part of this is also strength training. Strength training is not about pushing big weights but about the rules of engagement. First Wave Fitness sums up my new found motivation perfectly, and something all athletes should be focusing on. That is gym training is required to apply the principles of functional strength training to help you move more efficiently and effectively, by identifying and retraining imbalances in the body’s movement patterns.
Test yourself at home:
- Visually compare your body; are your traps similar, hamstrings, glutes, triceps, biceps etc.
- Squat bum to ground by keeping your feet straight and shoulder width apart. If you can’t your legs are imbalanced; your inside muscles are stronger than your outside muscles.
- Sit in a chair and keeping your hips straight and forward, rotate to one side. Compare this to the other side.
- Lie flat on a bench and do a barbell chest press. Does one side feel easier?
- Go down on all fours on the floor. Curl back one leg, keeping the 90 degree bend in the knee, until your thigh is straight with your core. Do this to both sides. Can you feel your glute engage to lift your leg? Do you wobbly or are you unsteady on one side compared to the other?