Hip strength: it’s not just something that older or more experienced runners need to focus on. Weak hips are often the culprit in a lot of injuries that can sideline us all, and no one likes that. So, why are they important and how do we keep them healthy?
Our hips need to be stabilized when we run, and the muscles around them do this. Strong hips help our running form. “One of the most common things I find in the exam is a lack of stability through the core and pelvis,” says Dr. Doug Bradberry of Greenapple Sports and Wellness. This can lead to injuries whose names strike fear into runners everywhere: plantar fasciitis, runner’s knee, shin splints, and IT band syndrome.
Dr. Zach Long of Onward Physical Therapy agrees. “The most frequent contributor we see to hip issues in runners is weakness of the lateral hip muscles. The gluteus medius plays a vital role in running form, and when this muscle is not strong, technique issues and pain often arise.”
“We typically see this in runners appear in the form of a hip drop as shown in the below image, where you see the athlete’s non-weight-bearing hip lower than his stance leg. As running volume progresses on a weaker muscle group, it will often get to a point of being overloaded and then become painful,” says Long.
So, how do we do our best to avoid these and become stronger runners? We need to start playing some offense and we’re going to have to work for it. “One of the best exercises for runners, in my opinion, is walking lunges. When done properly, this single exercise can address weaknesses in hip mobility, core/pelvis stability and glute strength” says Bradberry. Some others that are tried and true are bridges, clamshells and monster walks. Doing these a few times a week can make a huge difference.
Step up variations are a great strengthener as well, Dr. Long reminds us. Check out this demo by Forward Motion.
Finally, rest plays a role in this process. “Training puts a demand on the body”, continues Dr. Bradberry. “If you don’t give it time to adapt to your activity, the tissues you are loading (muscles, tendons, and even bone) will break down. Improve your body’s ability to get stronger and avoid injury with rest days, proper nutrition, and sleep.”