December 11, 2020

Another Major Piece of the Biomechanics Puzzle

About six weeks ago, I took a core activation for athletes seminar at my CrossFit gym. The PT friend that treated my back pain was teaching it. A whole lot of that seminar applied to riding, but I'm going to focus on one important bit of information I took from it: I learned my right gluteus medius was very weak, while my left one has normal strength.

The fan-shaped butt muscle at the top of this diagram that wraps around the side and back of the hip

This shouldn't have been as surprising to me as it was, because every Dressage instructor I've ever ridden with (except CGP) has, at some point, physically picked up and placed my leg in a location that made my right glute med spasm with pain that took my breath away, but I didn't realize until this clinic that that's actually a sign of extreme weakness in the muscle.

From there I followed the chain down my leg. If the right glute med is weak, that means my right thigh isn't able to rotate outward as well as the left...which means my right knee is going to point inward...which means I put a lot of weight on and push off of the inside of the right ball of my foot (overpronation)...which means I carry my heel to the inside...which is why my right arch is flatter than the left...which is why my PT friend said my right hip leads the left hip...which is why that hip is tighter than the other.

This was taken from straight on even though it looks crooked: this what feels "straight" to me, but notice how my right foot (on the left in this photo) has the heel to the inside of the middle toe and how that foot seems to curve inward

It was a real "Oh shit..." moment for a lot of things that actually date back to childhood:

  • Why I ended every cross-country (running) race with mud from my right heel swiped across the inside of my left lower leg
  • Why I've had right IT band pain when running more than a mile since I graduated college
  • Why snugging into the saddle feels so different on both sides
  • Why my right SI started hurting this year
  • Why I'm unstable in the saddle, at least partially
  • Why my weightlifting coaches have said "something about your anatomy makes you need to toe out more than most people" in certain lifts 
  • Why my right hip is so tight in pretty much every direction (disuse!)
  • Why I've always landed differently with my left foot than my right while running

I giggled at my little shadow wondering what I was doing

In the saddle, the glute med is responsible for hip stability and staying centered, and I've basically been riding with one of them. This has also had the effect of me putting a lot more pressure on the inside of my right stirrup.

Peep that right foot doing the broken ankle wave (no I've never broken an ankle). September 2018

The funny thing is, my right leg overall is much stronger than my left leg owing to my one and only riding accident in college, but it's my major mover muscles that are strong, not, apparently, the minor ones.

Right glute med inactivated

Right glute med activated

It's subtle in the pictures, but big in real life. It's probably also why the angels sang when I rode in CGP's MDC stirrups with the rotating eye a few weeks ago (and then promptly bought my own on Black Friday, only for them to be subsequently backordered until FEBRUARY!!)

The Dingo

In CrossFit and running, this has been a life-changing discovery. Simply remembering to move my right heel to the outside of where my brain wants it to be (so, straight and at the same angle as the left) can make my SI pain completely disappear. In the three weeks since I really put all this together, my pain has gone away entirely, and I'm back to challenging myself with progressively heavier weights. I'm taking it a little slower with running, knowing that the tendons in my knee especially have a LOT of remodeling to do before they're safely comfortable with this gait adjustment over more miles.

I'm also directly treating the problem by strengthening that muscle with monster walks, clamshells, and single leg Pilates jumpboard stuff. It's fascinating how quickly my right one gets smoked while the left can go all day.

Not me, but this is a jump board. She's just pushed off in this picture, and the springs underneath the white carriage will pull the carriage back to "home" in front of the jump board.

It'll be interesting to see what strengthening that muscle does for my Dressage in the coming months!


  1. This is fascinating to me. It would be interesting to get an assessment so I could target my specific asymmetries.

    1. I completely agree, I wish we had more of a culture of "prehab" rather than "rehab". If I had been aware of this 5 or 10 years earlier it might have prevented my IT band and SI issues.

      Here's a video of a glute med test very similar to what we did in the clinic. You'll need a second person for it:

  2. Sometimes I read your blog about body problems and wonder "Are we just the same person?" lol

  3. Very interesting! I've been thinking of trying feldenkrais.

  4. Very interesting stuff! How cool that you have found a PT friend/instructor that can help you narrow down on stuff that far. I feel like that is a gold mine. I'm just thinking of my own aches and pains (right hip, I'm lookin' at you) and those of my friends and wondering what good PT could do.

    And that pilates machine looks terrifying. I feel like I'd get all caught in it at some point. LOL