I have to tell you a secret. I am super judgmental. When I see people out running, I’m always studying their running form trying to figure out how can they run better? How can they be faster, more efficient? But really that judgmental nature, it’s just a matter of, I want to help them. I want to reach out and say, stop doing this. Please let me tweet this, turn you a little bit, and it can be so much better.
So, I’m not trying to be a jerk, but I am trying to help them and I look at people all the time. And I see sometimes that people end up running lopsided. They have this kind of, you know hitch in their step if you’re from the Midwest. That’s a saying we have.
And you know, they run lopsided or they look like they’re injured and they may be healthy. But often that lopsided running comes from an injury and even after you heal can persist, which is actually a sign of muscle imbalance or an imbalance between your legs. So, on today’s episode of Runner’s High, I want to share with you how to diagnose and fix an imbalance between your legs.
If you haven’t joined me before, I’m Jesse Funk. And as previously mentioned, this series is called Runner’s High. So, if you’re into running, you want to know more about running, how to be the best runner you can possibly be, as well as all of the things that I’ve learned in my nearly 20 years of competitive running experience; click on that button, bottom right hand corner to subscribe and stick with me for more videos.
Though you may or may not go to the gym very often, the quickest way to actually figure out if you have an imbalance between your legs is to use a couple very specific pieces of machinery at the gym. We’re gonna talk about that here in a second but what you should know is that I actually have some experience with this particular issue.
So, in college when we switched over our training staff, when a new person took over the program and we had a new head coach in charge of all of the distance program. Through his training I ended up injured and we had the unfortunate situation of having, I would say, more walk on people than recruited people at that time. And they often did what I refer to as fish for workouts. Which is basically saying, coach I don’t want to do this. Can we do this instead?
I don’t want to… Can we… Now, I was very committed to just doing whatever the coach wanted to do. Coach says jump, I say how high. And so when I got injured, I said, coach, I really think I need to take some time off. I was trying to listen to my body. But because he had been drowned out by all this noise from the people that we had there at the time, he ignored me.
And because of that, I continue to train. He said jump, I said how high. It doesn’t matter if it hurts, I just continued. Until one point because I was hobbling around so bad he realized, oh, maybe in fact, he does need to take some time off. I had run so much I had run an imbalance into my legs. You could physically see the difference in the size of my legs.
It had gotten that bad. Now, to his credit, he never questioned me again. I think that incident really brought us together in some sense. And if I said I needed to take time off in the future, he never questioned me. He knew I would follow whatever he asked me to do, no matter what unless I absolutely couldn’t. So, credit to him. Thanks, Mr. T.
Anyway, on to the diagnostic tool. So, this is what happened with the trainer and when we had this situation. We had to go in and use two specific machines, like I mentioned earlier, and that is the leg curl machine and the leg extension machine. What we want to figure out is what are our particular strengths for our quads, and our hamstrings?
The method you’re going to use is basically to get on the machines, do some lightweight for five to six reps. We kind of want to warm up just like we warm up for running. And then you’re going to increase the weight and do a single rep. Continue increasing the weight until you reach your one rep max. And that’s the max it’s basically, you can’t do any more weight. That’s all you can do.
Now, write down all these numbers for your right leg, quad, hamstring, left leg, quad and hamstring, and we need to compare these to figure out what’s going on. What we want to figure out is the ratios between muscle groups and between legs. So, between your quads and your hamstrings, you want to have a roughly a ratio of 10 to eight or 10 to seven. Meaning that your hamstrings should be able to produce as much power as 70 to 80% of the power that your quads can produce.
So, in my example, with my left leg, if we divide the numbers, it’s about 70%. So, I’m pretty much right on the mark. Now, if we take my right leg, on the other hand, divide those numbers 87%, meaning my quads are not nearly strong enough. And we know that the quads are the issue, it’s not hamstrings being overly strong because those numbers are pretty similar or much more similar on hamstrings between both legs compared to quads in both legs.
When we’re comparing between legs, you want to see a five to 10% difference, max. Most people have a dominant leg and that is perfectly okay. In fact, if you are a track athlete, most likely you’re going to have a dominant leg. And that’s pretty much always going to happen because of this amount of time you spend taking turns around a track.
In fact, in college and for the majority of time, and even several years afterwards, my right calf was one inch larger in circumference than my left one because of all the time, all the years, nearly a decade I’d spent training on the track. And that’s why if you’re doing track training, you need to make sure you’re always going straight, turning to the left, for your speed intervals. It’s good to go to the other direction to try and work on that imbalance, but when you’re doing this specific training it has to be specific to your racing.
So, that aside, when we compare my numbers, we look at my quad numbers, then they are going to be about 61%. So, clearly a lot of work to do there. And then hamstring number’s a little bit better, 77% but still low. So, we know that I had a lot of work to do, and here’s the methodology I use to try to get myself back into shape. You’re going to use those same machines that I mentioned before, leg curl and the leg extension. Again, we want to isolate our hamstrings and our quads.
Normally we like nice things like squat jumps and box jumps and squats and single leg squats and those kind of compound exercises, they’re really good for general strength. But because we have an imbalance, we need to isolate and focus on a particular muscle group. That’s because we don’t want our stronger muscle groups to try to compensate for that weakness. We need to really get in there and say, Hey, you need to do the work I’m asking you to do and do it to the level I’m asking you to do it.
So, what you’re going to do, now that you have those one rep maxes is you’re going to do a set where you’re doing five to six reps at 50% of your one rep max. Then you’re going to do five to six reps at 70% of your one rep max, and then you’re going to do three reps at 80% of your one rep max. Then you can do this two, maybe three times around. Give yourself plenty of rest between. This is something I did twice a day. But if you don’t have time to go to the gym twice a day, it was much easier living on campus being near the gym all the time, do it once a day.
And then what you’ll do, as that 8% increases, you’ll increase reps, you know, as you get stronger you feel you can do another rep, do another rep. Once you get to the point that you can do five to six reps of that 80% then it’s time to move up weight. You don’t want to try to make a big jump. So, make it five pounds or two and a half pounds if you have those small little plates available. Then you just rinse and repeat. You move all of your sets up just that tiny amount of weight, rinse and repeat until you get up into those ratio levels we talked about earlier.
Once you get your legs back into shape, you’re not running lopsided anymore; it’s time to start thinking about running form, picking up your schedule, what to do with that, how to maximize your training, all those kind of things. Fortunately, I cover those things here on this channel. So, hit that subscribe button in the bottom right hand corner. Stay tuned for more videos, and then go check out more here on the playlist that should be showing up on the screen soon. I’ll see you next time on the next episode of Runner’s High.