Truth be told, I have always shrugged off the importance of strength training for preventing injury and improving performance, especially when it comes to doing regular hip strengthening exercises
But that’s a big mistake. And something you should avoid like the plague if you’re serious about reaching your full running pottential.
For that reason, strength training has become a part and parcel of my training program for the last few years.
In fact, I believe that strength training has helped me in so many ways dodge injury and improve my performance on all levels.
The matter of fact is that strength training is vital for both injury prevention and athletic performance.
There is no way around it.
And as a runner, a group of muscles that needs a lot of attention and work is the hip muscles, including the adductor group, the abductor group, the posterior group and finally the anterior group. See Image.
Why the hips?
The fact is, your hips—along with the glutes—might be the most vital part of your running anatomy.
The hips play a significant role during almost every athletic activity. The hips stabilize each leg throughout the stance phase of the running gait. That’s why increasing strength in that area is of utmost importance—especially if you are serious about keeping stability in your running gait.
And what makes this more relevant is that, in my experience, the hips are the weak link for many runners.
Therefore, if you are serious about staying injury free and running your best, you got to do regular exercises to strengthen your hips. Otherwise, suffer the dire consequences.
Not convinced yet?
Well, here are a few reasons…
Runners and Injuries
According to popular belief in the running world today, some of the leading root causes of injury can be boiled down to improper running mechanics, logistics, training errors and footwear.
But what most people fail to see or don’t know better is that biomechanics have also an important role to play in preventing—or aggravating—running injury.
And one of the most important, and yet ignored, aspects of biomechanics are the muscles around the hips.
In fact, hip weakness is believed to be a major injury culprit, according to a plethora of studies.
Stronger hip muscles lead to more control, period
The hips—these powerful stabilizer muscles— control the mechanics of your lower body—especially the knee—hence, if you have weak hip abductors muscles, your entire knee region is at a high risk of injury.
In fact, numerous studies have linked weak, tight, and under-developed abductors to plenty of problems such as patellofemoral pain syndrome—what’s commonly known as Runners Knee—IT band syndrome, Achilles tendinitis, and other overuse injuries.
What’s more, this hip weakness problem has become more widespread as a result of the prolonged sitting we do in our daily lives. Recent studies are showing that prolonged sitting is the culprit of a plethora of health troubles.
Studies linking hip weakness to running injuries
Numerous studies have looked into the link between hip weakness and injury.
Here are a three studies:
Overuse injuries like Runners’ knee—Every runner’s nightmare—has been linked to weak hip muscles—including weakness in the hip abductor, adductor, and flexor, according to a study in the Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine.
According to another (2) study published in Medicine & Science in Exercise & Sports, women who developed runner’s knee had greater pelvic instability in their gait than the injury-free runners.
And that’s not all, another (3) study conducted by Frederickson et al. (2000), looked at 24 distance runners suffering from Iliotibial Band Syndrome—a notorious overuse injury.
The researchers examined the athletes’ hip abductor strength of their injured limb in contrast to the healthy leg, and to that of a control group. To nobody’s surprise, the researchers showed that on average Gluteus medius strength was about 2 percent less on the injured limb.
The Evidence is Overwhelming
For me, this is proof enough that every runner should be spending more time strengthening the hip muscles; otherwise, he (or she) will be setting the stage for a slew of injury and setbacks.
Prevention is ALWAYS better than cure.
So to stay injury-free (or at least reduce the risks), you need to strengthen your hips, helping add more support and stability to the movement of the feet, ankles, and knees.
Therefore and without further ado, here are 5 exercises you need to do to strengthen your hip muscles for better and pain-free running.
Top Hip strengthening Exercises – A 30-Minute Hip Strength Workout for Runners
If you follow this simple hip training program, you should start noticing a major improvement in less than two to three weeks.
Commit to a hip strengthening exercises routine two to three times a week, and you will run longer with fewer injuries.
Start with one set of 8 reps and gradually build on that so that you are doing three to four sets of 12 to 15.
1. Single-Leg Bridge
Targeted Muscles: Glutes, Lower back, Calves, Quads, and Hamstrings.
Lie on your back with both knees bent and feet flat on the floor, arms pressed against the floor by your sides. Then, lift your hips, engage your thighs, and squeeze your glutes.
Next, raise your right leg up in the air as straight as possible, keeping the foot flexed and extend it while raising your lower back and butt. Lift your hip as high as possible by engaging your abs and pressing down through the left heel.
Hold the position for 5 to 10 seconds; lower your hips to lightly touch the ground, then switches legs.
Number of sets: Three to four sets
Number of Repetitions: 8 to 12 reps.
2. Donkey Kicks
Targeted muscles: All three butt muscles — gluteus maximus, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus, plus the lower back
Get on all fours, with your hands directly under your shoulders and knees under the hips, wrists aligned under shoulders. Next, draw your abdominals in you gradually lift your leg behind you until it’s almost parallel to the floor, with knee bent and foot flexed
Hold the position and pulsate your flexed foot toward the ceiling by engaging and squeezing your glutes. Keep the motion small and controlled with the muscle doing most of the work.
Focus on the muscle, and avoid using momentum. And make sure to keep your back straight and spine in a neutral position.
Last up, return to starting position to complete one rep.
Number of sets: Two to three sets
Number of Repetitions: 12 to 15 reps
3. Side-Lying Hip Abduction
Targeted muscles: Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus and Tensor Fascia Lata.
Lie down on your side on the floor or on a mat.
Make sure your hips and feet are stacked in neutral position—Meaning right hip directly over the left hip (or the other way around). And keep your body in a straight line from ankles to head.
Next, place your lower hand on the floor in front for support, and upper hand is resting upon your upper hip. Keep your pelvis in a neutral position. Engage your core muscles to support and the spine.
Then, exhale and extend and raise your top leg off the lower while keeping the knee straight and foot in a neutral position. No hip rolling—forward or back—is allowed. Raise the top leg as high as possible.
Inhale and slowly return the leg to the starting position in a slow and controlled manner. After finishing the set, roll over and repeat on the other side.
Number of sets: Two to three sets
Number of Repetitions: 8 to 10 reps
4. Bird Dog Hip Strengthening Exercise
Targeted Muscles: Glutes, Lower Back Muscles, and Rectus Abdominis Muscle.
Get down on all fours on your hands and knees with palms flat on the floor and shoulder-width apart, with knees directly under the hips and hands beneath the shoulders. Make sure to keep your lower back and abdomen in a neutral position.
Next, engage your core to keep a good balance, raise your left arm and extend it straight out in front of your body as you raise your right leg and straighten it behind you. Hold the position for 3 to 5 seconds, return to starting position and repeat.
Number of sets: Two to three sets.
Number of reps: 6 to 8 reps.
5. Single-Leg Deadlift
Muscle engaged: Glutes, Hamstrings, Spinal Erectors, and Abs
Stand on your left leg with your right leg behind your and in the air. Then, while keeping your shoulders back and back straight throughout the movement, hinge forward at the waist and raise the right leg behind you, then reach your hands toward the ground.
Last up; come back to starting position by engaging your glutes and hamstring of the left leg.
For more challenge, use weight or a medicine ball for added resistance.
Number of sets: Three to four sets
Number of reps: 10 to 12.
There you have it!
The above hip strengthening exercises should make a huge part of your resistance training if you’re serious about improving perfomrance and preventing injury. Just, whatever you do, make sure to stay within your fitness level the entire time. Doing regular exercies to strengthen your hips is a good thing, but overdoing it is not the way to go.
Featured Image Credit – Darren Stevenson Through Flickr.