Runner’s, triathletes and cyclists will often develop an asymmetry in their hip stability resulting in symptoms around the knee, hip or low back. Their chosen activity involves thousands of repetitions of the same motion so small differences in form can become cumulative and over time develop into an injury.
Squats exercises and their variations are favourites and a valid part of most balanced training routines. They are frequently recommended as baseline strengthening for the lower limbs and with just a little attention to form are also a great core strength exercise. They can also play a big role in addressing and correcting hip strength asymmetry.
Because of the way the gluteus group (glut max, glut med and glut min) are attached they will provide power and stability at both hip and knee. Here are some variations from the standard squat to add challenge to your routine.
Swiss ball squat. Feet around hip width apart. Keep the trunk vertical as you lower the pelvis smoothly straight down towards the floor. Safety: keep the feet and knees in alignment, don’t advance the knees past the big toes. If you don’t have a ball you can still do this exercise against a door frame which will help keep the drop vertical.
This Single leg squat uses a variation where the ball is at the side. Safety: Make the emphasis on keeping the hips level as you lower and raise. There is good evidence to show the benefit of single leg work with the ball. There is a significant increase in glut max activation when doing single leg work with the ball as opposed to without. Sustaining a level pelvis is a great mind and muscle cue, especially helpful for running and cycling form.
I use squats a lot with my athletic clients particularly when I’m looking to improve hip and knee stability but one caveat. Flexibility has to be adequate and form has to be correct. To help with injury proofing, try these variations together with the standard squat as part of your twice a week strength routine.
Matt Powell is an experienced sports physiotherapist, bike fitter and cyclist. He is the owner of West 4th Physiotherapy.
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