In college, I had a teammate who, after every run, would put a resistance band around his ankles, bend to a squat and walk sideways like a crab. I couldn't help but laugh at him because of his resemblance to Dr. Zoidberg, from the TV show Futurama.
I imagined him saying "Whoob, whoob, whoob," with his hands in a claw shape every time he took a step. In hindsight, I should have stopped laughing and started doing those crab-walks myself because he has since had 6 years of healthy running and has completed several marathons (his fastest being a 2:15). I guess he was on to something.
The exercise in which my teammate was engaging strengthens a group of muscles called the hip abductors which are incredibly important to distance runners. The hip abductors are made up of several muscles, the three most important being the gluteus medius, gluteus minimus and tensor fascia lata. These muscles help stabilize the pelvis while running and allow for proper abduction and rotation of the hip joint.
One of the prominent signs of weak hip abductors is that a runner's knees will bump into one another while running. This in itself may not seem like such a big deal, but weak hip abductors can lead to serious injuries such as IT Band Syndrome or Runner's Knee (Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome), so making sure to strengthen those muscles is very important for every runner.
There are machines at the gym designed specifically to work the hip abductors, but if you don't already have a gym membership don't go purchase one just to use that machine. There are many exercises you can do right at home. The one tool you will need to purchase is a resistance band. You can get these at any athletic store or even Target and they only cost a few bucks.
Usually they come in packs that include bands with different levels of resistance, which is nice because you can start with a lower level band and work up. If the band with the strongest level of resistance isn't strong enough, use two bands at the same time. The three hip abductor exercises I find most effective are as follows:
- Crab Walk- I have already spoken of this exercise. Basically you put a resistance band around your ankles, stand with your legs hip-length apart, bend your knees so you are in a squatting position and walk sideways (while maintaining your squat)... Make sure to keep your feet facing forward and move both your lead leg and trail leg slowly (do not let your trail leg snap back into position). Do 2 sets of 15 steps in both directions.
- Clam Shell- This exercise is done by laying on your side on the ground. Slide a resistance band on so that it sits just above your knee. Bend your legs at the knee and pull your legs up so your thigh is perpendicular to your torso. Now you will open and close your knees, keeping your feet together, in a motion that resembles a clam opening and closing. Once again, make sure to go slow, maintaining control against the resistance band. Do 2 sets of 15 repeats on each side.
- Straight leg raises on side- This exercise does not require a resistance band. Just lie down on your side and lift your leg up, being sure not to bend the knee. Go slowly rather than shooting your leg towards the sky. Do 2 sets of 15-20 leg raises on each side.
Remembering to maintain hip abductor strength will keep you running healthy and strong. So, don't laugh the next time you seeing someone walking like a crab.