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Pregnancy brings some pretty spectacular things, the first and most important being a baby, with thicker hair and bigger boobs taking up second and third place, respectively. But with the good comes the bad and, in this case, it’s a weakened and less stable pelvis. As a runner you know the importance of strong, stable hips – unfortunately, big Momma Nature required things down there to stretch and relax in order to accommodate the arrival of your tiny human.
The primary role of the pelvis, or pelvic girdle, is to transmit the weight of your upper body to your lower body while also maintaining stability and alignment. It is formed by a pair of hip bones, known as coxal bones, and the sacrum. The coxal bones meet in the front of your pelvis at the pubic symphysis. The sacroiliac, or SI, joint connects the sacrum bone on either side to the adjoining coxal bones. These bones are held together by ligaments and supported by the surrounding muscles.
Generally, the pelvis maintains a high level of stability as you run or simply move throughout the day. However, once you become pregnant, a little hormone known as relaxin makes a dramatic entrance. Relaxin plays several roles in both men and women, but levels rise significantly once a baby is on board. Despite the fact that we ladies sport a wider pelvis than our male counterparts, it’s still not enough to permit passage of that surprisingly large baby head. Relaxin does exactly what the name says – relaxes and loosens the ligaments that hold your joints together. While this is a plus when it comes to the act of childbirth, it’s not so great the other 99 percent of the time.
Loose or lax joints cause instability in the pelvis, which can transfer down the kinetic chain and manifest itself as problems in the knees, ankles, and, of course, the hips themselves. Once your baby arrives, relaxin levels decline, however it can take a significant amount of time for your ligaments to regain their pre-baby level of stiffness. In order to safely get back out on the road, you’ll have to rely more heavily on the muscles surrounding the pelvis to maintain stability and avoid injury. Stronger muscles will take some of the stress off of your ligaments, giving them a chance to tighten up.
Prior to returning to your running routine post-partum, take a few weeks to strengthen the muscles that support the pelvic girdle. Exercises can be done three to five times per week. Aim for two to three sets of 5 to 15 reps of each exercise, gradually increasing exercise volume as your strength improves.
*Note: These exercises aren’t just for new moms – if you’ve been having problems running pain free with issues constantly arising in your lower limbs, you may have muscle imbalances or weaknesses in your hips. Incorporating these exercises into your routine might just give you the boost you need.
Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your lower abdominal muscles to press your low back into the floor and tilt your pelvis back. Hold the position for five to 10 seconds.
Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a small ball or rolled towel between your knees. Using the muscles of your inner thighs, squeeze the ball for five to 10 seconds.
Lie on your right side with your hips and knees bent to 90 degrees and legs stacked. Support your head with your right hand and place your left hand flat on the floor in front of your body. Stabilize your abdomen then slowly lift your left knee away from your right knee while keeping your feet together. Use only your abductors, or outer hip muscles, to lift your leg. Complete your repetitions then switch sides to repeat with your right leg.
Reverse Open Clam
Assume the same position used during the Open Clam exercise. Place a rolled towel or ball between your knees. Stabilize your abdomen and slightly squeeze your knees together as you lift your left foot away from your right foot. As you lift, lead with your heel. Lift only as high as you can without causing movement in your knees or hips. Finish your reps then switch sides and repeat the exercise.
Attach a resistance band to a sturdy object such as a doorknob or your significant other. Loop one end of the band around your right foot or ankle then lie prone with your right side near the anchor point and your knee bent to 90 degrees. You want to be far enough away from the anchor that there is tension in the band but not so far it’s pulling your foot sideways. Relax and extend your left leg on the floor. Keeping your right leg at or near 90 degrees, slowly pull the band toward the opposite knee by rotating your hip. Attach the band to the left foot to repeat the exercise.
Lie face-up on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat. Adjust your feet to hip-width, engage your abdominal muscles, squeeze your glutes and press through your heels to lift your hips off the floor. Continue up until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees. Hold the position for five to 10 seconds before relaxing on the floor.
Stand with your right side next to a sturdy box, chair or bench that’s between 12 and 18 inches high. Place your right foot on top of the box then simply side-step up onto the platform. Complete 10 to 15 reps with your right leg then turn and repeat the lateral step-up with your left leg.
Single-leg Chair Squat
Stand with your back facing a sturdy chair or bench. Stabilize your core and lift your left foot off the floor to transfer your weight to your right leg. Look straight ahead as you lower down into a squat until your butt makes contact with the chair (don’t actually sit), immediately return to the standing position. Perform you reps in succession before switching to your left leg.