Updated: Sep 10
If you've been to physical therapy, you may have been told after a quick exam that you are "weak" which is in some way causing your pain. But how does this make sense? Maybe you're a Cross-fitter, a great runner or a regular at your local group fitness studio putting the work in on a regular basis. You're doing all the right things, how can you be weak?
Well, if you fit into something like these aforementioned categories, you're probably not. That's because there's a big difference between strength and control. More importantly, it's vital that you, your physical therapist or trainer understand these differences to address them properly and optimize your movement, function and fitness.
Can you deadlift, squat or bench your bodyweight? Can you go out and knock out a 10+ mile run on a Saturday or push through a hard 60 minute spin class? Great, you're probably not "weak". You have some amount of baseline strength and endurance to perform those tasks.
A better way to think about strength/weakness is to think of it as your hardware. It is the tangible component of your system. The machinery, the tools, the durable equipment of your body if you will. It is the hypertrophy and brute strength or endurance capacity and combined forces of the muscles of your body to perform a task.
These are your larger, global, mover muscles. These muscles are meant to produce a lot of force over a quick period of time like in a squat or throwing something overhead. There are often multiple large muscles that get called in to work when performing a particularly challenging and complex task.
So you can squat 2x your bodyweight or run a 1/2 marathon with out breaking a sweat. WHY is this PT telling you you're weak? That often comes down to the motor control, the stability, or the appropriate activation of the muscles that make up your movement patterns. It's the intangible component, the programming of the system or...the software.
This is your ability to control that squat with proper alignment or to utilize the endurance strength of your hips over 10+ miles to maintain good running form. It's your ability to grade activation of a muscle or control turning it on/off like a dimmer light switch. It's the ability to do a simple task by using the appropriate muscles at a low level instead of recruiting and compensating by engaging larger global muscles.
This involves smaller, stabilizer and postural muscles. The muscles who's job it is to work a little bit for a long time and hold you upright against gravity or stabilize your pelvis while your legs are moving fast in a 5K race. But, the more abstract nature of the "software" side is the nervous system involvement and your motor control and learned movement patterns.
Get yourself a routine that can do both
No system can run without both hardware and software and that includes your body. You have to have the global strength of the larger abdominals to hold a 1 minute plank but also the control of deeper stabilizers and postural awareness to maintain a neutral spine throughout instead of compensating and losing your form.
First, it's important to identify which may be at fault. Once we identify a faulty movement pattern we test the strength and control for a clearer picture. If we identify a pelvic drop in a runner, we often work to strengthen the glute medius muscle but that doesn't always solve the whole problem. We have to learn to use this muscle and relearn a better motor pattern by incorporating a focus on level pelvis with all activity like single leg squats to single leg bounds. This can be applied to any movement dysfunction we find.
At The Run RX we always incorporate both into how we treat and train, because you can't build resilience without refinement. Check out some examples below of how we would train both strength/power as well as control and movement patterns with a variety of movements. All of these movements of course demand a balance of both but have a primary focus. And if you're wondering how to best incorporate this into your routine don't hesitate to reach out!
Focus = Core strength. Targeting larger abdominal muscles that are quickly fatigued but requires control to maintain a neutral pelvis. Inherently other global muscles like hip flexors are working
Focus = stability/control. Use of the foam roller for feedback on ability to keep your pelvis steady with movement. Avoidance of any rib flare and with overhead movements. Minimize contribution from larger global muscles
Focus = Strength. Compound movements training power and strength overhead. They demand contribution from larger muscles of the shoulders and back
Focus = stability/control. Control of overhead movement patterns with lighter weights and focus on avoidance of excessive lumbar extension/rib flare and upper trap engagement as compensation
Focus = Strength. Single leg squat strengthening for all the large muscles of the lower extremity. Inherently any single leg exercise also demands a lot of control for proper performance of the movement
Focus = stability/control. Control of pelvis - hip - knee - ankle with dynamic single leg plyometric activities. Paying attention to maintaining a level pelvis and avoidance of inward collapse of foot and knee for carryover into running gait. Use of a mirror for feedback on proper movement patterns!
2 Alpine St