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Help me straighten my legs
August 13, 2006 8:46 AM   Subscribe

What's up with my legs?

I work out quite a bit. I take Spin classes two or three times a week, I meet with a personal trainer once a week, I do more cardio two or three days a week. Until recently, I've been taking Pilates twice a week, and when I'm being really, really good, I take a resist-a-ball class once a week.

But here's the thing - whenever I have to keep my legs lifted and straight for an exercise (the 100's in Pilates, leg-lifts, etc.), I can't do it. When I do leg lifts, I have to bend my knees before I can lift them to a ninety degree angle, and even then I can't keep it up for long. The pain seems to be in my quadriceps. Could those muscles be short? Or tight (and if so, why?). Could it be a muscle imbalance? What is it and what can I do about it?
posted by Evangeline to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Probably tight hamstrings, hips, and/or lower back. Your quads have to work harder to fight the tight muscles on the opposite side. Gentle stretching or Active Isolated Stretching focusing on the hamstrings should help.
posted by callmejay at 9:44 AM on August 13, 2006


One more thing -- you could try altering the position of your pelvis. If it's tilted the right way, it's a lot easier to lift your legs.
posted by callmejay at 9:45 AM on August 13, 2006


Your quadriceps do not lift your legs (I mean your knee to your abdomen); they extend your leg at the knee. Your hip flexors bring your knee to your chest. Hip flexors include your psoas and the iliacus.

Here is a nice intro anatomy page on the hip flexors.
posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 10:02 AM on August 13, 2006


In my Pilates studio, altering the position of your pelvis is known as "cheating". Heh.

That's an enormous and admirable workout, but it's still possible that you've been missing something. Tight hamstrings, hips, and lower back are not unlikely, but also, how's the strength in your lower core? Since you can't lift your legs when they're straight, I'd guess that you may have a weak transverse abdominus and that you've been trying to compensate with other muscles. (How are your hip flexors feeling?) Have you tried very strongly activating your TA and pelvic floor before drawing up your legs? Does that change anything?

If it is a core problem, I'd recommend going back to Pilates but working cautiously with machines for a while, rather than on the mat. Breaking yourself of that compensatory habit may be tricky and not very pleasant.

Stretching is a good idea in any case, and I've found Active Isolated Stretching very useful.
posted by sculpin at 10:14 AM on August 13, 2006


Probably tightness from riding the bike so much. If I do a lot of biking my quads and calves get so I can hardly straighten my legs at all, never mind do good 100s.
posted by fshgrl at 11:46 AM on August 13, 2006


Great answers everyone - thanks! I've considered that it might be my lower core muscles, since I've fallen off on taking Pilates classes. Pilates has done more for me than anything other exercise. It's improved my posture, it's practically rid me of my chronic back problems - I can't say enough good stuff about it.

Just now, as an experiment, I lay on my back with my head resting in my palms and tried to lift just one leg in the air. As soon as I got past 45 degrees, my quads started to seize up.

Once I do finally get my legs up, I don't have any problem lowering them slowly while they're straight. I don't know if that means anything.

I also have intermittent knee pain and stiffness, and when I'm climbing in third position in Spin, the muscles behind my knee begin to tire and ache quickly.

I suspect it's the hamstrings, since I've been spinning for years, but whether it's the hip flexors, lower ab muscles or the hamstrings, all of the suggestions are good (and certainly can't hurt!).
posted by Evangeline at 3:19 PM on August 13, 2006


Check out the quad stretch from this website:
http://www.halhigdon.com/15Ktraining/Stretch.htm
it is very possible that you pulled your quads for one reason or another when you were younger which make make them even more suseptible to cramping. That is what it sounds like is happenning. If you have been doing a lot of strength training and not so much stretching, this makes a lot of sense. You should do the standing quad stretch for a full fifteen seconds, release and repeat, three times with both legs. Don't skimp on the time! A full fifteen seconds, at least, and repeat it three times with each leg. This should also greatly help your knee pain. Talk to your trainer about the proper way to stretch your quad. If you do it right, it'll stretch your knee and your hip-flexors along with it. You should also do the same with a hamstring stretch. That's basically trying to put your nose to your knees with your legs straight. Don't skimp on the time you spend stretching. That is key.
posted by Summer1158 at 12:18 AM on August 14, 2006


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