If you're looking for ways to improve your runner's movement, prevent injuries, and reduce their pain, you may want to start by exploring their hip strength.
In this article, we'll discuss why strong hips are important for runners and break down six exercises to strengthen the hips.
Before we begin, it's important to know the content in this article isn't just applicable to runners. Everyday movement and all types of athletic performance require healthy, neutral hips. So, regardless of the client demographic you work with, the following material can be helpful.
The hips and muscles surrounding the pelvis are the foundation of many movements. Proper hip strength and flexibility in the appropriate muscles are the keys to proper range of motion, stability, and injury prevention (1).
Much of a clients' running power comes from the pelvic region (glutes, hamstrings, etc.). If the muscles are too long or too short, weak, or inactive, it can significantly reduce athletic performance as well as increase their chances of injury! So, strong, healthy hips are essential for athletes.
To make things more challenging, the body can be confusing! When there is pain in the body, it's common for the pain to be a result of an issue elsewhere in the body (not where the pain is). For example, a client may experience pain in their knee because of hip weakness. Because the pain is felt in the knee, it's typical for a client to assume the problem is in their knee and then take steps to treat the knee. But, if there are issues with the hips and pelvis, runners can have knee pain (2), back pain, or other overuse injuries.
Several different exercises can help strengthen the hip muscles. The list below includes a few hip strengthening exercises you might add to your client's strength training or corrective exercise program.
Your client will begin by lying on their back, with their knees bent and the bottom of both feet pressed into the floor. With their arms at their sides, a neutral spine, and level hips, the client will lift their left foot off slightly the floor. Pressing through the heel of the right foot and without any movement in the knee or hips, the client will lift the hips toward the ceiling. The client will pause briefly at the top and slowly lower the hips down to the ground. The client should complete repetitions (reps) on both sides of the body.
Check out this glute bridge article for more on how this essential exercise can help strengthen your glutes—gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus.
The starting position for this exercise begins with a resistance band looped around the outside of the legs, just below the knees. The client will bend their knees and lower into a partial squat. While maintaining the partial squat position, the client will take a large step to the right with their right foot. The left foot will follow the right foot, reducing the tension on the resistance band (that's one rep on the right side). The client will repeat the movement for the appropriate number of reps before moving to the other side of the body, leading with the left leg.
The client will begin by lying on the right side of the body. The right and left leg should be slightly bent. The left knee should be stacked on top of the right knee and the left ankle stacked on top of the right ankle. Keeping the pelvis perpendicular to the floor, the spine straight, and the feet together, the client will use the glutes to externally rotate their left hip, which will raise the left knee away from the right knee and point it towards the ceiling. They will slowly lower the leg back down to the starting position and complete the appropriate repetitions before switching to the other side.
Your client will begin this exercise on a raised step, plyo box, or similar platform. They will stand in a neutral position with the bottom of the right foot pressed into the raised platform. With level hips, the client will shift all their weight to the right foot and allow the left foot to remain in the air, off to the side of the platform. Keeping the left leg straight and out of contact with the raised platform, the client will use the right leg to slowly lower into a 1/4 single-leg lunge on the platform. They will not touch the ground with the straight, hanging leg. The client will slowly lower down and press back up with the right leg. They will complete reps on the right side before moving to the left leg.
The client will begin on all fours (ideally on a mat to protect the knees). With the head in alignment with a neutral spine, the client will raise one leg (hip extension), keeping the knee bent (at a 90-degree angle). The bottom of the foot will lift toward the ceiling. The client will pause at the top and slowly lower the leg back down to the starting position. Throughout the movement, the client's hips and shoulders should remain square and the core should remain strong and level. Repetitions should be completed on both sides of the body.
Technically, the hip flexor stretch isn't necessarily a strengthening exercise—it's a stretch—but we wanted to include it because it's an important stretch for the pelvic region.
To properly do the hip flexor stretch, the client should start in a kneeling position with one knee on the ground and the other bent in front of them (with the bottom of the foot on the floor). Ideally, there should be a cushion under the knee to help protect it. The core should be upright and the chest tall. The client will intentionally tuck the pelvis (posterior pelvic tilt). Most people, when this is done correctly, will feel the stretch in their hip flexor. They should repeat on the opposite side of the body as well.
Check out this article for more info on identifying and correcting tight hip flexors.
Interested in learning more about exercises that can reduce injury, eliminate pain, and improve athletic performance? ISSA's Corrective Exercise Specialist is the perfect course for you! You'll learn how to identify dysfunction in posture and movement so you can help clients feel better and move better!
Snyder R. Kelli, et. al., "Resistance training is accompanied by increases in hip strength and changes in lower extremity biomechanics during running." Clinical Biomechanics. 24:1, 2009, p. 26-34.
Finnoff T. Jonathan, et.al., "Hip Strength and Knee Pain in High School Runners: A Prospective Study," PM&R, 3:9. 2011, p. 792-801.
The ISSA's Corrective Exercise Course will help you learn how to identify and correct the most common movement dysfunctions that you are likely to see in a wide range of clients.