The hips are the linchpin of every runner’s body, says
, an Orlando, Fla.-based physical therapist with USA Track & Field.
“You can lose a lot of power if you have weak hips,” says the 31-year-old former University of Louisiana-Monroe track star. When you run, your legs aren’t only moving forward and back. The thigh bone, or femur, rotates and tilts in the hip socket. Any weaknesses make the joint unstable and can contribute to poor running mechanics and a restricted stride.
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The hip joint is surrounded by several muscles, including the powerful glutes and the smaller hip flexors and adductors located on your inner thigh. When these muscles are weak, it can often lead to pulled hamstrings or groin muscles, lower-back pain and even plantar fasciitis.
These exercises target muscle groups that cross the hip joint. Ms. Thomas suggests performing them as part of your warm-up or as a workout on active recovery days.
Bear Plank With Leg Lifts
Why: “I like to use this exercise to improve proprioceptive awareness, coordination and overall trunk stability,” Ms. Thomas says. Whether running or lifting weights, we want to avoid excessive lumbar extension or having a C-shape in the low back, she says. This exercise helps improve core strength that’s needed to promote good running posture and positioning.
How: Start in a tabletop position on all fours, with hands and knees shoulder width apart, elbow creases facing forward. Lift knees slightly off the ground while hands and feet maintain contact with the floor. Lift one foot up toward the ceiling. Return foot to the ground and repeat on opposite side. Knees should hover slightly over the ground throughout the exercise. “The hips should move freely to a certain degree, without causing excessive arching in the low back,” Ms. Thomas says. Repeat for 30 seconds, building up to one minute. Switch sides.
Option: If this is too challenging, drop to your knees. To increase difficulty, place your hands on an unstable surface like an Airex pad or pillow.
Why: When the glutes are weak, the body’s ability to control motion in multiple planes is limited, Ms. Thomas says. This exercise targets the glutes and works on single-leg balance to build hip stability.
How: Stand with your back against the wall and feet shoulder-width apart. Step forward 2 feet from the wall. Slightly bend your knees and hips. Lift the right foot back and place it flat against the wall and at the level of your left knee. Keeping shoulders and hips facing forward, rotate the right knee outward toward the wall, then slowly bring it back in. Repeat 12…