These Two Unconventional Strength Movements Will Change Your Run Stride

Hips can be a triathlete’s best friend, or worst enemy. These two unique exercises from our Multisport Mobility Bootcamp work the hips in a very specific way to help reduce a variety of injuries.

Photo: Matt Pendola

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I’ve rarely seen an athlete with exactly even hips. There are so many different variables that act on the hips that it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint when, and where the issue begins. The hips move in three different planes—flexion and extension, abduction and adduction, and internal and external rotation. Many athletes are quite familiar with the flexion and extension of the hips. The injuries that arise from hangups in this motion are quite easy to trace back to the hips. For example, you may be familiar with a certain tightness in your hip flexors. But, when the abduction and adduction are not working together in the frontal plane, you might feel pain elsewhere—far far away from where it begins. It can be harder to trace pain back to the hips, and you might experience pain in your knee or your lower back during your runs.

The hips are designed to both stabilize and mobilize your lower body, so if you are imbalanced, your foot can land too far from your center of mass, and your gait won’t be as efficient as it could be. That means performance losses and a higher risk of injury. We have two really helpful movement patterns for engaging these rotator muscles, one for the internal rotation and one for the external rotation. And even though both movements aren’t “hard,” doing them properly could conceivably be more difficult than lifting traditional weights heavy.

Both of these movements are a part of this week’s Multisport Mobility Bootcamp sessions—check out the first week of the four-week plan here and join in at any time!

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Short-Lever Copenhagens: Hip Adduction

This hip adduction exercise targets the groin and muscles of the inner thigh that move your leg toward your midline—often undertrained muscles that can lead to in-season injuries. This drill may be quite challenging and frustrating at first, which is why we choose to start with the short as opposed to the long-lever movement.

1. Set up

To start you will need a bench or chair that is about a foot and a half off the ground. That height is something that you can play around with to make the sets more or less difficult. For some athletes, a lower surface might be difficult enough, but if you need more of a challenge then try something that is around hip height.

2. Starting Position

You’re going to be in a side plank position, with your elbow firm on the ground, and your top leg propped on the bench or chair. This is another variable that will change the difficulty of the exercise. The most difficult variation would be having only your foot propped up on the surface, being careful to not cause discomfort in the foot or ankle. If that feels too difficult you can shorten your lever and support farther up your leg. For example, if you supported your thigh just above the knee on the bench, that would be the easiest version of this movement.

3. Movement

With your bottom edge of your bottom foot touching the ground, you’ll begin the movement by squeezing through your inner thighs and lifting up until your body is in a straight line and your legs squeeze around the bench or chair. Hold, like you’re frozen, snapping a photo, and then slowly lower your bottom leg back to the ground. Throughout the movement, be aware that your hips are level and forward, not spilling up or down.

4. Sets and Reps

One of our favorite tests for athletes is to see how many controlled reps you can do in a minute. Our gold standard is 30 or more reps. If you can do 30 or more reps in a minute, I’d consider you sufficiently strong, meaning you don’t have to focus on this movement in your training. If you’re looking to improve your numbers, you can do shorter time periods, like 20 seconds of reps and 40 seconds of rest. Until you’ve accumulated more than a minute of reps. Progress this by adding more time to each set, or doing more sets.

Check out more tests here to find out your “gym age.”

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Plank with Lateral Leg Lifts: Hip Abduction

1. Set Up / Starting Position

You’ll start by marking a line (with tape, chalk, etc.) on the wall at the height of the bony prominence on the upper end of your femur (the greater trochanter, see video for a visual). This line is crucial to making sure you’re getting the proper range of motion during the test. I’ve seen athlete’s that are able to blow this movement out of the water, only to realize their setup was lower than hip height. This exercise starts in a side plank position. You’ll have your elbow on the ground, your head and chest in line, and your hips pointing forward.

2. Movement

In a controlled motion, lift your top leg until it reaches the mark on the wall and then lower it. If your foot doesn’t reach the mark on the wall, the rep doesn’t count. Many athletes have a tendency to lose connection in their hips when they get fatigued in a side plank. You may notice that if you sit your hips back, it becomes significantly harder to reach the mark on the wall. So, keep your hips engaged and in-line.

3. Sets and Reps

For this movement we like to do a 1-minute test as well. If you can do over 30 reps in a minute you’ve reached our gold standard. You can build up strength in this movement in the same way as the Short Lever Copenhagen’s, you’ll start with 4 sets of 20 seconds of reps and 40 seconds of recovery. Progress toward more time in each set until you can reach your goal for the minute.

Check out more tests here to find out your “gym age.”

As a former hotshot firefighter who found himself injured, Matt Pendola relied on strength and mobility training to rehab his own injuries and get back to running pain free. Inspired by the huge impact that strength and mobility had, he has gone on to become an EXOS Performance Specialist and Licensed Massage Therapist with a focus in manual sports massage therapy. As a strength coach, he’s worked with the likes of Gwen Jorgensen and Ben Kanute, who this year, under his guidance, placed 2nd at the 70.3 World Championships. Despite his success with high-performance pros, Matt’s greatest thrill is getting to teach athletes of all levels how to perform with more confidence and control. 

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