Improving your stride hinges on your hips. That’s because hip flexors – the muscles that allow flexion at the hip – play an enormous role in fluid running, so a group of tight flexors can really mess together with your mechanics.
‘The iliopsoas is the strongest group of muscles within the hip flexors, connecting the spine to the femur, and it’s what helps contract and pull the thigh towards the torso, allowing you to bring your knee towards your chest as you run,’ says Amanda Nurse, an elite marathoner, running coach and yoga instructor. When running, you’re regularly shortening that muscle, never lengthening it; this will cause imbalances.
Sitting all day (eg desk job, long flights, or car travel) can make matters worse. ‘The longer we spend sitting, the more the iliopsoas shortens,’ says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist. ‘The shorter that muscle, the shorter your stride becomes – which throws off your natural gait, which may create compensations that cause injury within the muscles that employment to maneuver us forward and stabilize us as we run.’
That’s why it’s crucial, now quite ever, to offer your hips some TLC. ‘Never before has strength training, stretching and mobility work been more important for runners,’ says Holland. ‘All day, we do the unnatural – sitting – then we attempt to do the natural – running – and our bodies aren’t ready for it.’ To run much more efficiently (and, crucially, without pain), strategically opening and also strengthening your hip flexors must be a part of your running routine.
How to strengthen your hip flexors:
The easiest place to start out is with active warm-up drills that are often underrated and underutilized, says Holland. ‘Two to 3 minutes of high knees, bum kicks, skipping, and running backward will open up the hips within the front, side, and back planes of motion,’ he explains. Holland also suggests doing strength add different planes of motion to stay all the muscles in and around your hip flexors – especially your glutes – firing correctly.
‘You can’t have good hip flexion if your glutes are tight or weak,’ says Nurse, ‘so it’s vital that you’re always stretching and strengthening the front of your hip flexor and therefore the back, which is the glute muscles.’ Unilateral exercises like step-ups and single-leg toe touches are particularly effective at strengthening the glutes, while walking lunges, lateral lunges, air squats, and jump squats will zero in on all the muscles surrounding the hips.
Whether you’re at the gym or heading out for (or returning from) a run, these five moves will strengthen and open your hips, keep them loose in the future and not only cause you to a far better runner but also make running feel better to you.
5 moves to open your hips:
1/ Skating squat
Stand with legs just wider than hip-width apart. Lower into a squat. Shift your weight to your right leg as you get up to standing and extend your left leg back, like you’re on skates. Return to a squat and repeat on the other leg. Alternate for 60 seconds.
What it does: Strengthens glutes, lengthens hip flexors.
2/ Low-lunge variation
Start during a low lunge together with your right foot planted, right knee bent and your left knee on the ground . Place your palms flat on all sides of your right foot. Lift your left arm above your head as you lean to the proper . Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the other side.
What it does: Strengthens quads and hips, lengthens psoas.
3/ One-legged bridge lift and lower
Lie confront , knees bent. Lift your arms. Engage glutes to lift hips. Transfer weight to your right leg and extend your left leg for five breaths. Lower your leg, hover over the ground for five breaths, then lift copy . Do eight reps, then repeat on the left leg.
What it does: Activates the glutes, and strengthens the hip flexors.
4/ Crescent lunge knee-up
Start during a high lunge, right foot forward, knee at 90 degrees, hips square and toes facing forward. Lift your arms as you stand and draw your left knee towards your chest. Return to start out position. Do 10 reps, repeat on the left leg.
What it does: Strengthens glutes (especially the glute medius) and therefore the hip flexors.
5/ Full-range figure four
Sit upright together with your knees bent, hands on the ground behind you. Cross your left ankle over your right knee. Let the left knee travel left, then back to the centre. Slowly undergo the range of motion, then hold for five breaths for an honest stretch. Repeat on
the other leg.