I'm continuing to work on changing the way I hike to improve my alignment, and thus prevent my problems with knee pain that I've been struggling with since May. A few new exercises have really helped my "runner's knee," so I wanted to share these with you all. The good news is that it's been working-- NO MORE KNEE PAIN (so far).
In addition to the exercise to loosen and re-align my pelvis that I wrote about last month, my physical therapist also taught me to strengthen my glutes. Strengthening muscles that support the hips will reshape how my lower legs move (for an explanation see this article). By using different sets of muscles, my knees will track in a way that won't hurt. The most difficult thing is that the muscles I relied on previously are super-strong, so when I'm tired at the end of a long hike, I want to revert to my old form. I'm hoping that by doing these exercises my glutes will get strong enough so that eventually my new alignment will come naturally.
The physical therapist gave me this series of exercises so I can build strong glutes (described in this Runner's World article):
-Three-way leg raises
-Side-plank leg lifts
Then I do pigeon (from yoga) to stretch my muscles, which burn all the time now.
Sticking with this new program has not been easy. I constantly remind myself that I am re-sculpting my body. Over the long term, I have to believe that all this work will pay off with healthy knees and even allow me to push beyond my previous levels of endurance. This hope helps to counteract the frustration I feel because I'm not as strong climbing hills now that I have to use different, weaker muscles. Evening runs around the neighborhood have me worn out much faster than usual. But that doesn't aggravate me too much because I don't identify as a "runner". But hiking has been a different story. On one particularly long uphill far from the trailhead, I had a total meltdown and had to stop to talk myself through it. Miserable, I wanted badly to quit, to be anywhere but on that mountain. Where was my strong, pain-free body that could fly uphill? I kept thinking it was a good thing no one was there to see my weakness-- it might have ruined my reputation as a fierce hillclimber! But seriously, when I got to thinking about it, I was confronted with my own ego. Having that meltdown reminded me of what it was like to struggle, lose confidence in yourself, and then, eventually, find the strength within to get up and do what needs to be done (i.e. keep hiking). It reminded me about the joy and sweetness that only comes from pushing beyond pain and exhaustion. I try to appreciate the lessons the trail provides.