5 Hip-Strengthening Exercises Every Runner Needs

Bad news: Running injuries are pretty common. They're so common, in fact, that running-related injuries occur at a rate of almost 80 percent, according to an April 2018 study from the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy. But, here's some good news: They're often preventable.

Your hips don't lie! They need strengthening as much as any other part of your body.
Image Credit: Ales-A/E+/GettyImages

Of course, the site and severity of these injuries can vary widely — and there are a number of risk factors that can increase your chance of injury — but knowing which areas you should focus on strengthening can greatly decrease your odds. You likely focus on keeping your legs strong, but you should also pay close attention to your hips.

Read more: The Best Strength-Training Exercises for Runners, According to a Running Coach

Why Runners Shouldn't Neglect Their Hips

Your hips are a complicated area of the body, physiologically speaking. There are six muscles in the hip that directly control rotation, but there are at least six more that aid in this rotation.

And while the hips aren't an area that frequently experience injury themselves, weakness in the hips can absolutely have a trickle-down effect, leading to injuries in other areas, including your knees and ankles. A February 2015 study from PLOS One confirms that injuries to or weakness in the hips is a risk factor for injuries in other sites of the leg — specifically in the calf.

"Most running-related injuries are repetitive stress injuries caused by cumulative micro-trauma to bones, joints and other soft tissues until the tissue tolerance is exceeded," says Jen Davis, DPT, physical therapist and owner of Oregon Running Clinic. Basically, these injuries happen gradually, caused by minor stresses to the body that worsen over time.

Davis gives the example of a runner suffering from bone stress. One potential cause is weakness in the deep core muscles of the lower spine and hips. If those are muscles weak, it can alter how other parts of the body — in this case, bones in a different area of the body — are loaded, putting excessive strain on them that eventually becomes a more serious injury.

Read more: 3 Simple Stretches to Help Relieve Hip Pain

Common Hip Injuries — and How to Prevent Them

That doesn't mean that direct injuries to the hip should be ruled out just because they're less common (Davis says hip injuries still account for roughly 10 percent of running injuries by region). She explains some of the most common, which include:

  • Proximal hamstring tendinopathy: Starts as a deep ache in the lower glutes, but later can be sharp and very painful, usually made worse running uphill, overstriding, braking and running fast.
  • Gluteus medius tendinopathy: More common in women than men, this condition has to do with chronic sloppy movements of the pelvis or hip when running.
  • Femoral acetabular impingement syndrome: It presents as anterior hip pain, pinching and binding, usually sharp (though it can be a dull ache).

As with any pain experienced during running, it's important not to ignore it, as that can lead to overcompensation that may change (and cause injury to) other areas of the body.

While higher weekly mileage if often associated with hip injury (by that 2015 PLoS One study), that's only one risk factor. Injuries can be caused by much more than too much mileage or a misstep.

Injuries can sometimes be prevented with strengthening exercises, but many non-running factors can impair your bodies' ability to adapt to training, says Steve White, DPT, CSCS, physical therapist and owner of Dallas Run Clinic. "Things like poor sleep, poor nutrition, emotional stress [and] work stress — just to name a few."

Because of this complexity, it's important to keep up a multi-pronged prevention strategy. White specifically notes sensible mileage progression, respect of non-running stressors and their effect on your training and a comprehensive lower-body strength training routine.

Read more: How to Prevent Workout Injuries From Sidelining Your Fitness Routine

5 Best Hip-Strengthening Exercises for Runners

As part of that lower-body strength training, be sure to include hip-strengthening exercises (Davis encourages it two to three times per week). She adds that while you can do them before a run to activate your muscles, in order for true strength gains occur, they should be done as part of resistance training with some load.

Davis and White recommend the following moves to help your body better handle the stress of running. Begin with 1 set of 10 reps, and as you progress, add 1 or 2 more sets.

1. Single-Leg Squat

  1. Stand up straight with shoulders back. Bend your left leg slightly and raise your right foot from the floor.
  2. Lower your left leg and get into the squat position, hinging at the hips and lowering your butt back as if trying to sit in a chair. Keep your knee stacked over the ball of your foot.
  3. Raise back to standing.

Tip

To add load after you’ve mastered the move, either hold two dumbbells or kettlebells or place a barbell over your shoulders.

2. Reverse Lunge

  1. Stand up straight with legs together. Step your right leg back.
  2. As you step, lower down at the hips so your left leg is bent at the knee and parallel with the ground. Your knee should be stacked over your ankle. Your right knee should be hovering over the ground (and pointed at the ground).
  3. Return to standing.

3. Single-Leg Hip Bridge

  1. Sit down in front of a weight bench and lean your upper back on the bench for stability.
  2. With your shoulders positioned on the bench, plant both feet roughly hip-width apart, bend your knees and raise your butt off the ground.
  3. Lift your right foot off the ground and straighten the right leg.
  4. Raise your hips up into the air, driving them upward with your pelvis level, while squeezing your glutes as your reach the top of the move.
  5. Lower your hips back down.

Tip

To make this move more challenging, either place a resistance band around your thighs or place a barbell across your hips.

4. Side Planks

  1. Lie on your right side propped on your right elbow. Your legs should be together, with your left leg stacked over your right.
  2. Keeping your spine aligned, engage your core and lift your hips off the ground so that your body is making a straight line. Hold this position for the duration of the plank.
  3. Lower your body to the ground.

Tip

If this is too advanced, you can bend your legs at the knee and have your legs tucked behind your body.

If this is too easy, hold a dumbbell in your left arm. As you reach the top of the plank, extend your left arm and hold the dumbbell up in the air. Lower the dumbbell before lowering your body back to the ground.

5. Reverse and Lateral Step-Ups

  1. Stand in front of a 6- to 8-inch step or box.
  2. Step your right leg up onto the box and bring your left leg up, hovering it slightly over the step.
  3. Using your right leg to balance and with your weight in the ball of your foot, lower your left leg behind you and back toward the ground and tap the ground (as if to tap an eggshell).
  4. Bring your left leg back up toward the step and stand tall, hovering your foot slightly.
  5. Still balancing on your right leg, take your left leg and lower it toward the ground on the left side of the step and tap the ground (as if to tap an eggshell).
  6. Bring your left leg back up toward the step and stand tall, hovering your foot slightly.
  7. Repeat on the right leg.
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