Welcome to part 2 of 3 of my strength and mobility for runners series. In the previous article, I discussed the importance of maintaining strength and mobility to prevent injury. I explained the torso’s role in absorbing shock and generating torque, and provided exercises for that body region. In this article I’ll introduce the hip complex, its role in running, and educate you on how to maintain its strength and mobility.


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The hip’s primary role in running is power production. It’s the engine. If the hips don’t have the strength and mobility to do their job then this can manifest in more than just slowerrunning, it can be the cause of back pain, high hamstring pain, knee pain, calf and achilles pain, the list goes on. In terms of running form, if we aren’t running tall through our hips, our motor becomes a shock absorber. If the hips are absorbing shock as well, they can’t produce as much power to move us forward, resulting in wasted energy and potential overuse injury. If we don’t have adequate hip extension range of motion then we won’t even fully engage our glutes. Thanks to modern society, we spend a lot of time sitting, which means the glutes are habitually disengaged, and we’re in a prolonged hip flexed positioned directly impacting hip extension. In the previous article I introduced the iliopsoas muscle and its role as a torque converter. The thoracic spine generates torque through rotation, which is converted to power by the iliopsoas muscle through its attachment on the front of lumbar spine and the front of the femur. As the trunk rotates right, your right hip drives forward. As the trunk rotates left, your left hip drives forward. During this motion, the opposite extending leg requires the psoas to have adequate length for extension. Below, I’ll demonstrate various ways to lengthen and strengthen the hips. The reverse slider lunge lengthens the psoas under load, so this is a strength exercise as well as mobility. To perform these you’ll need something to help the rear foot slide back. If you have hard wood floors, a sock or dish cloth works. If you’re from the Midwest and it’s the 90s a paper plate works well on carpet, or you can get some furniture or fitness sliders. Begin in standing, and let one leg slide back in a controlled manner, while raising both arms overhead. Two rounds of 10-15 repetitions is adequate to improve mobility.


Slider Lunge

To strengthen the psoas, and also your core, try mountain climbers with a band around your feet. If this version is too difficult remove the core component, and do them in standing instead of leaning forward gripping a chair.


Mountain Climbers

Gluteus maximus is the largest hip extensor and power generator to move us forward. Unfortunately, modern society forces most of us to sit for prolonged periods, which means our glutes are essentially turned off for hours on end. A great glute max exercise is the single leg bridge. If a single leg bridge is too challenging then use both legs. Weight can be added to both version for increased challenge. I’ve demonstrated in inclined variation, if too challenging, just do on flat ground.


Single Leg Bridge

Besides our hip flexors and extensors we also have internal and external rotators that helps stabilize the pelvis and leg as we go through the running motion. A great stretch for this muscle group is the hurdler’s stretch which allows you allows you to stretch both hips at once. You’ll do this stretch for each side. If loosening up before a run keep the stretch to under a minute, if post run you can go longer, but remember stretches should never be painful.


Hurdler’s Stretch


Gluteus medius and minimus are pelvic stabilizers. Think of them as the brackets on a shelf on the wall. As you lift one leg off the ground, the opposite hip has to hold up the entire shelf. Running is a series of alternating single leg stances, you want strong brackets to protect the back and the knees. Not only do we want to have a strong maximum contraction, but we also need to train the muscles’ endurance. To do this, we’ll add a side plank to the traditional leg raise and clamshells. While the top hip is completing repetitions, the bottom hip is helping to hold your body up. The plank shouldn’t be the limiting factor, so if you can’t hold the plank long enough to get 10-20 repetitions, make the plank a separate exercise and work up to combining them. Make sure your hips are stacked on top of each other, and not leaning back. You will also need to make sure the leg doesn’t creep forward as you raise it. Both compensations allow tensor fasciae latae to do the work of the glutes.


Hip Abduction Plank


To strengthen the internal and external rotators we’ll use clamshells and reverse clamshells combined with a side plank to improve the muscle endurance as well. For the clamshell keep the ankles pinned together and raise thee top knee. For the reverse, keep the knees together, and raise the top ankle up. Resistance can be added to increase the challenge. Just like the sidelying hip abductions, make sure your hips are stacked.


Reverse Clamshell Plank


Clam plank


The split squat is one of my favorite strengthening exercises for runners. It’s great for overall hip and leg strength, and because you’re doing it on one leg, there is a balance/stability component. If you are new to this exercise then choosing a weight that forces you in the 8-12 rep range is a great place to start. As you get stronger and become more familiar with the exercise, then slowly work your way to a weight where you can only do 5-8 reps at a time.


Split Squat


I hope you’ve found this article helpful and continue to better appreciate the importance of making a strength and mobility routine part of your run training. In the next article we’ll look at the legs and feet that act as a spring. As a reminder, this article is not intended to replace medical advice, and these exercises are intended for healthy tissues. Please consult your physical therapist if you are working through an unresolved injury.

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