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Whether you’ve just laced up your first pair of running shoes or you’ve been logging consistent miles for years, feeling great stride after stride for even the most genetically blessed takes much more than a little sweat equity coupled with an intelligent training plan.
“Niggles,” or small areas of soreness or discomfort, are bound to pop up and for runners, paying a little extra attention to your hips can be key in preventing these in the first place. Weakness in the musculature of the hips compromises the actual alignment and mechanics of running—stressing the feet, ankles, shins and knees in a way that over time, forces these much less stable structures to compensate in either strength or mobility.
While the term “core” is probably the buzzword (and a good one, btw) that comes to mind, the key players to your run stride at the pelvis are minimally, but specifically as follows:
- Glutes: These control hip extension, lateral stability, and internal and external rotation of the hip. In short, if you have a glute problem, you’ve got a running problem. Your primary abductors, or the muscles that move your legs away from the center of your hips, are actually your glute med and glute min. These muscles keep your pelvis stable step for step.
- Adductors: These muscles “add” your legs together – i.e. the groin and inner thigh muscles. These muscles keep your knees stable.
- Hip Flexors: These muscles lift your leg and help to create momentum when extended in your run stride.
That’s it—just these three!
But this is why it’s important to differentiate between “core” and “hips.” Your core includes a host of additional muscle groups—abs, obliques, lower back, etc.—which support and stabilize the relationship between your posture and your pelvis. So while you may be planking for days, if you’re not paying attention to the actual moneymakers (hips), you are missing a key component to your overall future running health.
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The best hip exercises for runners
Here are my top recommendations for a short, simple routine to add 2-3 times per week to support your run-specific training plan.
There are so many variations from a basic bridge to a more advanced bridge walk. The key here is to ensure that your pelvis does not turn or rotate and that your glutes are doing far more work than your hamstrings. If your hamstrings start to run the show, drop your hips, reset, squeeze those buns and start again. For those on the varsity squad, runner’s hinges are a nice pre-run activation drill with a big hip drive emphasis. Do 2-3 sets of 30-45 seconds.
Whether side lying on the floor or in a more advanced elevated side plank, these are stability-based exercises that will ultimately help facilitate more power (speed!) from your stride. 2-3 sets of 30-45 seconds per side.
This specific lunge is one of the most effective movements at targeting your adductors and your VMO (the quad muscle toward the inside of the knee). Start without weight on this movement—working toward consistent pressure from both big toes to the ground and level hip bones through the entire movement. It’s easy to progress with weight once you’ve hit the basics. Do 2-3 sets of 30-45 seconds per side.