The hips are the linchpin of every runner’s body, says
, an Orlando, Fla.-based physical therapist with USA Track & Field.
“You can lose a lot of power if you have weak hips,” says the 31-year-old former University of Louisiana-Monroe track star. When you run, your legs aren’t only moving forward and back. The thigh bone, or femur, rotates and tilts in the hip socket. Any weaknesses make the joint unstable and can contribute to poor running mechanics and a restricted stride.
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The hip joint is surrounded by several muscles, including the powerful glutes and the smaller hip flexors and adductors located on your inner thigh. When these muscles are weak, it can often lead to pulled hamstrings or groin muscles, lower-back pain and even plantar fasciitis.
These exercises target muscle groups that cross the hip joint. Ms. Thomas suggests performing them as part of your warm-up or as a workout on active recovery days.
Bear Plank With Leg Lifts
Why: “I like to use this exercise to improve proprioceptive awareness, coordination and overall trunk stability,” Ms. Thomas says. Whether running or lifting weights, we want to avoid excessive lumbar extension or having a C-shape in the low back, she says. This exercise helps improve core strength that’s needed to promote good running posture and positioning.
How: Start in a tabletop position on all fours, with hands and knees shoulder width apart, elbow creases facing forward. Lift knees slightly off the ground while hands and feet maintain contact with the floor. Lift one foot up toward the ceiling. Return foot to the ground and repeat on opposite side. Knees should hover slightly over the ground throughout the exercise. “The hips should move freely to a certain degree, without causing excessive arching in the low back,” Ms. Thomas says. Repeat for 30 seconds, building up to one minute. Switch sides.
Option: If this is too challenging, drop to your knees. To increase difficulty, place your hands on an unstable surface like an Airex pad or pillow.
Why: When the glutes are weak, the body’s ability to control motion in multiple planes is limited, Ms. Thomas says. This exercise targets the glutes and works on single-leg balance to build hip stability.
How: Stand with your back against the wall and feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward 2 feet from the wall. Slightly bend your knees and hips. Lift the right foot back and place it flat against the wall and at the level of your left knee. Keeping shoulders and hips facing forward, rotate the right knee outward toward the wall, then slowly bring it back in. Repeat 12 to 15 times. Switch legs.
Option: Increase difficulty by placing a resistance band around your knees.
Why: This exercise targets the hamstrings and glutes. The lifting phase (a concentric movement when muscles shorten) and lowering (an eccentric movement when muscles lengthen) of a bridge are both great for increasing tendon loading capacity after injury, Ms. Thomas says.
How: Start lying on your back with your heels elevated on a bench, sofa or chair. Your knees should be flexed to 90 degrees. While keeping your back flat against the floor, tilt your pelvis back and lift your hips off the ground by squeezing your glutes. Pause at the top, lower slowly for five seconds and repeat eight times.
Option: For an added challenge, lift one leg at the top and descend using one leg for support, keeping hips even.
Romanian Deadlift With Hip Rotation
Why: “Running is a single-limb sport. Both feet are never on the ground at the same time. Every foot strike can produce a force that’s at least two to three times a person’s body weight,” Ms. Thomas says. “The Romanian deadlift targets the posterior chain, or muscles on the backside of your body.” Adding the hip rotation challenges the muscles to control hip motion in multiple planes of movement, creating dynamic stability.
How: Stand with knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Lift your right foot off the floor and behind you. Keep your back flat as you slowly lean until your trunk and right leg are parallel to the floor. In this position your pelvis and hips should be level and facing the floor. Turn your trunk and pelvis up toward the ceiling and then down toward the left foot. Return to standing. Repeat for six to eight reps. Repeat on the opposite side.
Option: Reach your arms straight above the head throughout the exercise for increased difficulty. Once you’ve mastered the movement, hold a single kettlebell or dumbbell with both hands.
Why: This exercise improves hip adductor strength. The adductors are five muscles that bring your leg inward and help stabilize the pelvis and help internally and externally rotate the hips.
How: Start lying on your side on the ground. Your elbow should be directly beneath the shoulder. Place your foot on a bench or chair. Lift your hips up until your body has formed a side plank. Don’t let your hips sag as you lift your bottom leg up to hover below the bottom of the chair or bench. Hold this position for 15 to 20 seconds. Return to start position. Repeat four to six times and repeat with the opposite side.
Option: For a greater challenge, drop the hips toward the ground while keeping the feet elevated, then raise back up again. To decrease difficulty, bend your top knee to 90 degrees and place the majority of your leg on the bench/chair/sofa.
Hip Flexor End-Range Isometrics
Why: Running only works the hip flexors and extensors in a very small range of motion. “We often think our hip flexors feel tight, but oftentimes they’re actually weak,” Ms. Thomas says. This drill builds strength and increases mobility by working the hip flexors in the last quarter of the available range of motion.
How: Perform a low lunge between two chairs. Press your hands firmly onto the tops of the chairs to increase core engagement. Lift the front foot off the ground. Hold the contraction for 10 seconds and repeat four to six reps. Repeat on the opposite side.
Options: If it’s too difficult to lift the front foot off the ground, decrease the amount of hip flexion in the start position by supporting the back knee on a yoga block or cushioned step. In place of chairs, you can hold a broomstick or ski pole in each hand and push down into the poles to lift the front foot.
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