One of the most common causes of knee pain is hip weakness from lack of strength or tightness shutting down muscles, that’s right hip exercises for runners and hip stretches are both necessary to prevent issues.
I bet you thought I was going to say running causes knee pain, since that’s the long standing myth!
Then again if you’re here, you already know that running doesn’t hurt your knees and what you’re really looking for are hip strengthening exercises…probably because a PT told you that’s your issue!
Here’s where you say “she’s a mind reader, how did she know I’m injured?!“
Ah because most runners ignore our hips until we have that first bout of IT Band pain or knee pain…or knee pain caused by IT Band pain and a host of other issues. Then the DR says nothing is wrong, the PT says your hips are weak and here you are.
Why Hip Strength Matters to Runners?
Let’s dive in to why weak hips are a problem, what the heck are the hips and then how hip exercises can help.
A number of studies have proven that strengthening weak hips is more effective at relieving knee pain than focusing on trying to improve knee function.
While, another study showed that improving hip flexor strength improved run time by up to 9%.
Not one to dilly daly, I give you a video of ideas right off the bat! Just click to watch.
Running Pain from Weak Hips
Lack of hip strength causes some of the most common issues related to running injuries:
- creates a tight IT Band, which then begins to pull your knee cap the wrong direction
- knee failing inward when you run
- twisting when you run to compensate for tightness
- unstable pelvis creating lower back pain
- muscle imbalances
- poor form when doing squats, lunges (you know that cross training we harp about)
Resulting Injuries by Weak Hips
Our hip muscles serve as the stabilizers for our bodies and weak one’s are shown to increase injuries, most commonly:
Now we aren’t getting ready to get you ripped hip flexors or the most enviable hip dip on the planet because well who really goes to the gym and does that.
We want to create function and figure out what the heck we even mean by saying runners need hip strengthening exercises!
Strengthening weak runner hips helps:
- repairing our movement patterns
- allowing the appropriate muscles (like your glutes) to take on the load of the workout
- that means keeping our knees in alignment to prevent pain
- keeping our ankles in alignment to prevent pain
What Do We Mean by Hips?
Are you thinking of the hour glass figure or your Aunt Hilda’s hip joint replacement? Most of us recognize that our pelvis creates the width of our hips, but minus the rare instance a runner has a pelvic fracture, our actual “hip” focus tends to be on the surrounding muscles, tendons and fascia.
Keeping the science to a minimum here are the key players:
- hip flexors: they allow you to raise the leg in front and when flexible to reach full extension for pushing off the ground to create momentum
- adductors: these muscles move the leg inwards and across the body and are the primary driver in creating knee stability, this includes your groin and inner thigh
- glutes: yes the butt muscles are part of your hips! They control everything from moving your leg out to the side, to extension, to internal and external rotation of the leg.
Though I’ve broken the following in to hip strengthening and hip stretching for runners, the truth is that a TIGHT muscle is a WEAK muscle, so you need both in your routine.Everything you need to know about how to strengthen and loosen your hips to prevent the most common #running injuries!! #runchat Click To Tweet
Symptoms of Weak Glutes
Let’s focus a bit more on the glutes now that we understand they’re part of this whole weak hips complex we need to resolve!
- Low back pain while running
- Knee pain during or after running
- Lack of power running uphill
- Plantar fasciitis as a result of a poor gait
- Blisters from changing your foot strike
The body is going to compensate for this large muscle not working the way it should and the result is a lot of issues.
Here’s why this matters that we get our glutes firing before a run:
When you place a movement demand on your body, it’s going to do its damnedest to perform. If it can’t do so using the correct muscles, then it’s going to start firing all sorts of funky stuff in a mad dash to satisfy your demands.
The gluteus maximus is a primary mover of hip extension. There are two other muscles associated with the glutes called the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. These two muscles are most associated with stabilization and are equally as important as the gluteus maximus.
Weak glutes mean weak extension, less power and overcompensation injuries
How to know if your glutes are firing?
Not sure if your glutes are firing? Checkout the tests in this post.
Movement to Help Glutes Fire
Here’s a great one to do before your next run to get everything firing! By doing something like this or hip bridges before every single run you ensure that the glute muscles are activated and have a better chance of remaining turned out throughout the run, providing more power and stability to your stride.
Doing this 3 times a week before 3 runs means you didn’t need to add in some special workout, just a minute to your warm up for results.
Best Hip Strength Exercises for Runners
Relieving pain and getting faster, by spending a little time during your dynamic warm up seems like a pretty great trade off. Many of these moves are going to engage your glutes, which makes them perfect to do before a workout as it will help you run faster.
I’ve done a lot of posts with workouts for hip strength over the years, so I will link to each of them below. However, if you’re simply looking for a quick list of the movements I recommend ASAP to every runner this would be it.
Try adding 10 reps to your dynamic warm up or doing 3 rounds of a couple moves as part of your full body strength training.
Old school works like a charm. I’ve done a video showing different variations of the clam shell, which you should use to hit the muscle from different angles.
Basic: Lay on your side with legs at 90 degrees and keeping your feet together, you move the top knee towards the ceiling and then place your knees back together.
Again I did a full video showing the variations of hip bridges of this because it’s a movement where you should start with the basics and progress to continue challenging the muscles in different ways.
Basic: Lay on your back and bend knees, bring feet on floor to where your fingers can touch the back of your heels. Raise your hips up creating a straight line from your head to your knees and hold for 30 seconds before rolling down slowly.
This one requires you to move with thought through a range of motions. It meas watching where you may not have as much motion and not simply quickly going through the motions. As runners we work in one plane of motion, which is forward, but our hip muscles are designed to move lots of ways and we need to strengthen those other movements.
You’ll be lunging front, side, curtsy and cross curtsy. See this post for more help on the lunge matrix.
Basic: Get comfortable with side lunges. From a standing position, lunge out to the left side landing with knee bent and lowering down, then pressing through that foot to come back to standing.
Hip Strength Workouts
Following are the additional workouts, you should try. As with any muscle, you want to continue to challenge it in different ways and find the movements where you feel the muscles working the hardest over time.
Do I need any equipment?
I like to utilize a stability ball or mini bands for many movements to add in some resistance and practice stability. Why not be working your abs and stabilizers all at once, maximize your time.
- Improving hip extension and strength
- Best glute activating exercises for runners
- Creating strength with the stability ball
- Creating strength with mini band workout
- Hip stability exercises no equipment needed
I hope you’ll instead look at spending a few minutes each day as pre-hab and worth it to avoid the angst of being sidelined or just as bad not hitting your next PR goal because your body isn’t firing on all cylinders.
How much time do you spend strengthening your hips?
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