Well, I have my first pilates and physio ah-ha moment: I know which leg is stronger and I know how to fix it.
This must sound incredibly mundane, but believe it or not, this issue has been such a puzzler it feels an age-old question of my exercise life.
Do you snowboard goofy? Which leg leads? Why is this quad muscle so tight? When you climb a hill which foot goes first?
The answer: The one I feel like and it’s not always the same because it depends which one’s hurting and whether I can remember which one that is under pressure.
If you’ve ever had an ear ache in the middle of the night—or a kid with one—you know the principle.
Everything is in agony until you get to the doctor and by then the pain is kind of gone and you can’t remember which ear it was that hurt. Unfortunately, unlike the ear infection, which calms in the cool air but is otherwise still easy to spot, a weak muscle can pull a crafty hiding routine.
Run for 30 kilometres with a weakness on one side and then head to a professional and I guarantee you, the stronger side is going to look tired—at least on me.
But when you look like one side of you is ready to collapse from fatigue and the other is OK, it’s hard to say: ‘Nope, I know this weak-looking side is the stronger one.’
Having taken a little time away from my regular exercise regimen, though, I’m in a rare position when I meet with physiotherapist Jen Gulley of NEUmovement Pilates and Physiotherapy; my body is finally not overtired.
The first thing I notice about Gulley is her giggle. She’s got a great funny bone and it keeps things rolling as she explains exactly why she thinks my one foot is always turned inward when I run really long distances; once again, the culprit is my wicked hips.
There are definitely a few people who have been able to make my hips stop wiggling over the years and the key, in my opinion, is direct instructions.
She says I need to turn on my core and rely less on damaged ligaments. She says it like this: “You turn your core on by finding those muscles that make you stop the flow of pee and by imagining you have a tail and need to pull up on it.”
Boom. In place. I’ve heard this before, mind you, but the trick she’s trying to teach me is to do it even when someone isn’t standing over me saying “turn on your core” and even when I don’t have time to think, ‘hmmm, I should turn on my core right now.’ It’s about retraining my brain, she says.
When I sit on the pilates reformer, it’s easy to see how the twisted tale plays out. In my crooked state, one side of my butt is firing and the other really isn’t doing much. In practice, this produces an embarrassing shake in the resistance reins on the reformer.
So Gulley cracks the case of the weaker side and breaks down my core strengthening into a series of exercises to train my brain to automatically keep those rotten core muscles firing.
I do lots of core exercises in workout classes targeting larger muscles and inner muscles, but I don’t think anyone has ever looked at how it’s working on a daily basis.
I grew up in a household where one person was trying to retrain major neurological pathways to relearn how to walk and yet it never occurred to me this might be necessary to recover from my own injuries; I walk around in the world just fine after all.
The list of physio exercises Gulley has given me isn’t exciting and it will not leave me with a six-pack.
But if lying on the floor and breaking down the components of how these critical stabilizing muscles work—similar to dead bug for the core class fiends out there—can bring these hips back to life and make trips to the chiropractor or physiotherapist about something other than the jiggle in my middle, I’m game.
This could seriously impact how I do business for many years to come, and that, thanks to the ever-giggly Ms. Gulley, is nothing to laugh at, at all.