For even greater results, make sure to make space in your schedule to have at least one strength session per week. If you can, get under some weights at the gym, but if this isn’t possible for you an at-home session can be very effective in boosting your strength!
Why Should You Care?
A few studies have been conducted in order to test whether hip weakness is associated with running injuries. Hip weakness can lead to an unstable core, which will likely cause injury in the long term because (when running), every time you take a step your legs and hips hold the impact of up to 2x your total body weight, due to the impact of every step.
One study gathered 33 high school and college cross country athletes in order to test if hip weakness influenced knee pain in running (the infamous runners knee injury). The study concludes that while hip weakness may not influence knee injuries, it may increase hip ROM (range of motion) which may indicate lack of stability, leading to further degradation of the joints and muscles surrounding the hip.
Another study, with a total of 68 participants, set out to find if there was an association of isometric strength of hip and knee muscles with injury risk – and the results were positive.
A meta-analysis reviewed 11 studies (with strict criteria) and found a link between weak hip abduction and iliotibial band syndrome in distance runners.
As you can see, hip weakness is a thoroughly studied condition and results ultimately show that runners can definitely benefit from strengthening their hips. That being said, I definitely recommend you take some time to read the studies cited above, understand their testing methods and draw your own conclusions.
Main Hip Muscles
There are many muscles involved when we consider the hips. The quadriceps originate from the hips, and so do our hamstrings. The piriformis muscle runs through glutes into our quads. There’s also the sciatic nerve that runs through the hips. These are all important, but we’re only going to focus on three different muscle groups that directly influence our running:
The hip flexors are located in the upper thigh and pelvic area. This muscle group helps maintain hip alignment in running and also help to drive the knee up (an aspect many runners need to work on – understand more about correct running posture in this article).
These are all the muscles in your butt – the gluteus maximus, medius and minimus, as well as the tensor fascia latae. These muscles play a role in almost all leg functions, from extensions to rotations.
Arguably the most important running group (and the main culprit in most running/weightlifting injuries), these muscles are responsible for moving your legs inward and across your body.
If you’re using these exercises as a warm-up then one set of 8-10 repetitions will be sufficient. If you’re doing a dedicated 30-minute strength session, then you can work your way up to 3-4 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise.
Unilateral Hip Bridge
Put a mat on the floor, lay down on it (belly-up) and propel your hips upwards, as if performing a hip bridge. When you get to the to the top release one foot from the front and stretch it out in front of you (stay balanced). With your leg stretched, bring your hips (slowly) to the ground and bring them back up – that’s one rep. Make sure to do both legs!
Position yourself on your hands and knees on the floor (mat recommended). Now lift one of your knees and bring your heel up as if you were trying to touch the ceiling (try not to over-extend your lower back). Bring your knee back down to the starting position and lift again. Remember to this on both legs!
Floor Side Leg Raises
Still on your mat, lay down on your side and lift your body up laterally, as if performing a side plank. Hold this position and lift the leg that isn’t touching the floor. Do this movement slowly and hold it at the top for a few seconds to really feel the muscles activating.
These will fire up your glutes. Lay on your side and bend your knees. Now lift the knee that isn’t touching the floor to at least a 60/70-degree angle. Make sure your feet are still touching each other and try to keep your hips facing forward (not upwards).
Once again, position yourself on your hands and knees and just like a dog pees on a fire hydrant, lift your leg up to at least an 80-degree angle (try to aim for 90-degree angle, with your leg being perpendicular to the floor).
Now your hips are fully warmed up and activated, ready to tackle the road!
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