Imbalances in strength and flexibility between one side of the body and the other are common, but are not often identified and corrected before they lead to more serious injuries. Trail running with imbalances can alter your natural running motion, which causes additional stress throughout your body and can lead to injury. Listed below are my tips for identifying and correcting imbalances so you can stay injury free.
Rest Your Minor Muscle Pulls (Tweaks)
A muscle strain, pulled muscle, or “tweak” occurs when your muscle is overstretched or torn. Running with small muscle tweaks increases the risk of developing running form imbalances and injuries. Small tweaks on one side of your body can alter your running gait and make the other side of your body work harder. Over time, these small tweaks can develop into bigger tweaks and more serious injuries.
Recognize your muscle tweaks and if they do not go away in a few days, consider taking some rest and cross training until they go away. The longer you run with a tweak, the more likely it is to cause a major imbalance and lead to serious injury.
Discover Your Imbalances With a Foam Roller
Foam rollers are great for so many reasons, including their ability to illuminate your imbalances. Imbalances can come in many forms including left vs. right side differences in range or motion, muscle tightness or strength. Roll over your legs and notice the differences in tightness. How do your two calves compare? Is one calf tighter than the other? Is there a trigger point in one and not the other? Feeling tight spots on one side and not the other is an indication that your tight side is working much harder because of an imbalance on your other side.
This past summer, I noticed my left calf was never as sore as my right. I later discovered problems with my left achilles and realized my right calf was compensating for the injury on my left side. Tightness on one side can be caused by weaknesses or injuries on the less tight side.
Squat in Front of a Mirror
Squats are a good way to test for imbalances. As you perform your squat, watch yourself in a mirror to see if you lean to one side or the other. Focus on squatting with your weight evenly in both legs.
Single-Legged Bike Workouts
These workouts are effective for identifying imbalances in leg muscles and correcting them. Try intervals, 10 by 1 minute with 1 minute rest at high intensity. Alternate legs with each interval. Keep the RPMs and watts the same on both sides. Notice if one side feels easier than the other.
If one of your legs is stronger than the other, perform intervals on only the weaker leg until you notice both legs are equal in strength. Perform 10 by 1 minute intervals with 1 minute rest at high intensity twice per week.
Receive Advice from a Physical Therapist (PT)
It’s always beneficial to have a PT check you for imbalances. PTs can identify imbalances you might not have known you had and can give you specific exercises to fix them.
Since having surgery on my left achilles last December, I’ve learned many exercises from PTs about how to identify and strengthen weaknesses on my left side. I currently perform one-legged balances, band exercises, pool work, and seated calf raises.
This past week, I’ve been performing 10,000 seated calf raises per day. This takes nearly two and a half hours per day. If you’re curious what that looks like, check out the time lapse below (video edited to show roughly 1,000 repetitions). Calf raises are performed with a 40 pound weight resting on my leg.