Weak Hips Sink Triathletes

Last week, I started physical therapy for my knee. The acute injury is healing quite nicely, as evidenced by the fact that my doctor touched it and I didn’t punch her in the face. But there’s a lingering aching and sometimes feeling of glass under the knee that’s kept me from flip turning, running, jumping, or riding a bike (well, that, and the fact that it’s already snowed three times already this winter).

My physical therapist diagnosed the remaining problem as weak hips. I’ve heard before that hips can have a lot to do with knee pain, especially for women (for example, here, here, and here), but I didn’t really think that would be part of my problem when recovering from what I knew to be an acute injury. I knew exactly when I injured it, and how, and even felt a pop to prove it. But when my physical therapist had me lie on my side and positioned my top leg up and to the back of my body, then let go and asked me to hold it, I couldn’t do so for even a moment.

I now have three hip and glute strengthening exercises to work on this week. The plan is increasingly difficult strength training, first to concentrate on my hips and glutes and then to work on building up the muscles above and below my knee to further help stabilize the joint. The best part is that she said once things are stronger, I can start running on a treadmill in the PT office to check out how my knees are doing, and then I’ll be able to get back on a running program.

I seriously cannot wait to be running again, even though I’m sure that once I start it’ll be frustrating and difficult to carry my body around for any distance. I’m trying to remain optimistic that the fitness will come back quickly. I felt so at the top of my game right before this happened that’s it’s extra-frustrating to sit around and feel the fitness drain from me.

The light at the end of the no running tunnel combined with a breakthrough of sorts in swimming last week has me on the verge of optimism. Last Friday, we had IM day in swimming, but with a twist: we used a pull buoy while kicking the entire time. This had not so much effect on my butterfly and breaststroke (plus, I’m only breaststroking with a flutter kick right now, as breaststroke kick is strictly forbidden while my knee heals), but the effect on my backstroke was notable, and the effect on my freestyle was unreal.

As soon as I started kicking with the buoy between my thighs while doing freestyle, I felt like I had acquired a superpower. My feet were on the top of the water, my kick felt strong and powerful, and with very little effort, I was shooting across the pool like I had an electric motor behind me. I felt like I had somehow been bitten by a radioactive spider and been given a magic ring by an alien at the same time. Every IM cycle, I couldn’t wait for the freestyle so I could zoom away from the pack. My coach even commented that I looked like a completely different swimmer.

Of course, at the end we had to try it without the buoy, and the results weren’t quite as magical. Don’t get me wrong — my freestyle kick was still way better than it had been, but that feeling of effortless speed was gone. The good news for triathlon racing, though, is that a wetsuit can sometimes feel like the buoyancy of a pull buoy, and although this is completely ridiculous and egotistical to say, I don’t see how anyone is going to be able to catch me in the swim anytime soon. Which also saves me the trouble of having to learn how to draft. 🙂

Only about six months until my next triathlon!

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