Have you ever come home for a run and wonder why the inner portion of your calf is dirty? Or perhaps had scrapes on your legs from your shoe? These things are perhaps to be expected on a trail run, but certainly not a jaunt around the neighborhood.
So why does this happen? Why do we kick ourselves as runners? (you know, physically kicking ourselves, not kicking ourselves because of our poorly timed afternoon snack, starting too hot in a race, or steady stream of coffee instead of water)
The answer is a familiar one to us runners: glute weakness. Other factors can be at play, but this issue is rooted in the booty.
We kick ourselves when the stance leg lands too far toward the midline, causing the leg that is in swing phase to catch it as it passes by. As we can see from the picture below, this pattern also comes with the classic “hip drop” as well (Read more about hip drop at the link). We affectionately call this in the PT world “cross over gait”.
When the foot lands toward midline, we are shifting closer to our center of mass, which requires less muscular effort than the alternative. To demonstrate this, you can try this little experiment: Stand up from your chair and keep your feet hip distance apart. Lift one leg to balance without moving the other leg. It’s hard, isn’t it? You REALLY want to shift that foot toward the middle, don’t you?
Strong hip abductors and rotators help us find stability even when we have less of the mechanical advantage of cross over gait. We can build the strength we need through single leg exercises such as single leg squats or lunges, and lateral movements like banded sidesteps.
Learning the proper sequencing of muscle activation is just as, or perhaps even more important than strength alone. Doing these exercises correctly, perhaps guided by a Physical Therapist, is paramount to stop seeing those scuff marks on your calf. There are also a number of running drills that can be helpful, which I’ll share below.
Stay clean out there,
Dr. Kacy Seynders, PT, DPT