Summer is in full swing! If you love to run, I’m sure you’re itching to hit the pavement or trailhead as much as possible. Whether you’re training for a race or have just returned to running after a hiatus, you don’t want your progress slowed by injuries. I’m going to show you two hip-focused exercises that can help you run injury-free and can also help relieve any nagging hip, back, and knee pain you might be experiencing.
You might be wondering: “How will hip exercises affect my achy low back? Shouldn’t I be strengthening my back?” The muscles in your low back may need some targeted work, but often in runners, the muscles around the hips aren’t working as hard as they should. This results in compromised form and compensations from other areas of the body. These compensations can place excessive stress on different muscles, joints, or other structures, resulting in irritation.
How our hips help us run
The muscles in the hip that are targeted in the exercises below are the gluteus maximus, medius, and minimus. Collectively, these muscles are crucial for moving you forward, keeping the hips level, and maintaining knee alignment.
You can see in image A on the left how the glutes on the planted side must stay engaged and active in order to prevent the opposite hip from dropping and the knees from turning in. In image B, you see how the hip drops due to weak or underactive glutes – exactly what you don’t want to happen! If you don’t have the strength or aren’t optimally utilizing your glutes, you might be experiencing some of these breakdowns in form. If you are having pain in the low back, hips, knees, or are looking to stay injury-free, give these exercises a shot!
Exercise 1: Hip Hikes
Why this exercise will help:
Hip hikes are not only a quick, easy way to activate the glutes before a run, they can also function as a beginning glute strengthening move. This will help you learn how to keep your hips level as you move.
Watch the video below for a demo.
(Tip: If you are not feeling this in the glutes of your planted leg, you’re likely bending up and down at the knee, doing more of a squat. The planted knee should remain slightly bent throughout the entire movement.)
How to incorporate hip hikes:
These are harder than they look when performed correctly. Try a few and you’ll feel the burn right away. Incorporate 2 sets of 20 on each side daily, particularly before each run. This will get the glutes active and ready to do their job, keeping the pelvis level throughout the day and before your run.
Exercise 2: Double and Single Leg Hip Thrusters
Why this exercise will help:
This exercise has some of the highest glute activation demands of any exercise, and it also helps to retrain your posture as you recruit your glutes to maintain a neutral spine. Among other things, under-recruitment of the glutes can contribute to hamstring overuse and low back pain due to increased arching of the low back.
Watch the video below to see this move in action.
This video provides a good example of how to perform hip thrusters correctly. I typically recommend that patients, particularly those with low back pain, finish the top of the movement before their hips reach the same level as the shoulders and knees. Regardless, make sure you’re not arching your back at the top of the movement.
How to incorporate them:
Start with double leg hip thrusters. 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, 2-3x/week. These are challenging, but once you feel like you have mastered the movement and are not fatigued by the end of the sets, lift up one leg and try out the single-leg version of the exercise!
How these exercises will benefit you
These exercises can help optimize your form by increasing hip strength and glute recruitment so you can hopefully continue to run injury-free. Proper form will go a long way in helping you reach your running goals.
However, if you’re having significant pain associated with running, see your physical therapist. The physical therapists and personal trainers at MoveMend have experience working with runners of all types and can guide you toward pain-free running through one-on-one treatment.
Written by Dr. Sam Watkins