Whether you have tendinitis, runner’s knee, IT band syndrome, or just gas out halfway through your long runs, chances are your hips have something to do with it.
The hips are the cornerstone of every runner’s body. Comprising an array of muscle groups—from the all-powerful glutes to the smaller hip flexors and adductors—your hips propel every stride, stabilize the thighs, and (quite literally) keep the knee on the right track, physical therapist John Sauer, D.P.T., O.C.S., an endurance program manager with Athletico Physical Therapy, tells SELF.
However, runners are infamous for imbalances in their hip muscles. The most common weak ones are the hip abductors, the muscles on the side of your butt responsible for moving your leg out away from your body to the side. Lev Kalika, D.C., clinical director of New York Dynamic Neuromuscular Rehabilitation & Physical Therapy, tells SELF that since most runners run, run, and only run, they are constantly training their hip flexors and extensors through a very small range of motion. That can lead the hips to be unstable on the less-frequent occasions when you bring your knee all the way to your chest or thrust your hips forward.
Even though it seems like your legs are moving forward and backward when you’re running, in reality, the femur (your thigh bone) both rotates and tilts in the hip socket, Kalika explains. It’s the hip adductors—most notably the gluteus medius—that keeps the femur sitting in the socket as designed. (The hip adductors are the muscles that move your legs inward.) Any weaknesses make the joint unstable, and can contribute to poor running mechanics, hip drop (when the pelvis drops to one side), too-narrow stances, and aggravated tissues throughout the entire body, Sauer says.
For example, a study of 24 long-distance runners published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicinefound that runners with IT band syndrome have weaker hip abductors in their in-pained side. Other studies have linked weak glute mediuses with low-back pain and plantar fasciitis.
These issues tend to be more rampant in women because they generally have wider pelvises than men, Ali Kotek, M.A., A.T.C., P.E.S., a performance enhancement specialist and fellow endurance program manager at Athletico, tells SELF. So to keep the thighs vertical, rather than angled in toward each other, the outer hips have to be even stronger. That’s especially true for women who are bounding from one foot to the other as they run down trails and treadmill belts.
Below, you’ll find six hip exercises to help strengthen your hips so they can better support your body and running goals. All you need to do them is a mini looped resistance band, so you can easily fit them in at home or wherever your workouts take you. Try out the moves below in sets of 10 to 15 reps and add some (or even all!) of them to your cross-training workouts.
- Start in a quarter-squat position (a shallower squat) with a mini looped resistance band just above your knees.
- Take a giant step to your right with your right foot, then follow with your left.
- Step back with your left, and then your right, to return to starting position.
- Repeat the movement but this time, begin with the left foot. That’s one rep.
- Continue this movement, alternating directions each time.
Similar to (but just different enough from!) lateral band walks, this variation trains the glute medius from a different angle while also training the hip flexors and extensors in the front and back of your hips, respectively, Kotek says.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart, a mini looped resistance band just above your knees, and your knees slightly bent. (Don’t lock them out.)
- Take a giant diagonal step forward and to the right with your right foot, then follow with your left, ending with your feet together.
- To return to starting position, reverse the movement, stepping diagonally behind your body with each step.
- Take another diagonal step forward, this time leading with the left foot instead and following with your right.
- Reverse the movement to return to starting position. That’s one rep.
Repeat this movement, alternating directions each time.
Side Planks With Leg Abduction
Strengthening the core and glute medius muscles will help limit your body’s side-to-side motion when running, Kotek says.
- Start in a side-plank position with your feet stacked, balanced on your lower foot and forearm. Loop the resistance band just above your knees.
- Squeeze your glutes to lift your top leg toward the ceiling as high as possible while keeping the rest of your body in a straight line from head to heels.
- Pause, then slowly lower the top leg to return to start. That’s one rep.
- Repeat all reps, then perform on the opposite side.
Mini-Band Glute Bridges
This variation on the master glute-strengthening move, the glute bridge, hones in on hip stability and improves the ability to drive through the ground and power each stride.
- Lie face up with your back flat on the floor, a mini looped resistance band just above your knees, and your feet flat on the floor, spread hip-width apart.
- Push through your heels and squeeze your glutes to raise your hips until your body forms a straight line from shoulders to knees.
- Pause, then slowly lower your hips to return to start. That’s one rep.
“Nothing beats a properly performed squat, which has fantastic activation of both the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius—as long as it is performed correctly,” Kalika says. Using a looped resistance band can help you maintain proper form and muscle engagement. With each rep, work to keep your knees from caving in toward each other.
- Stand with your feet hip-width apart and a mini looped resistance band just above your knees.
- Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower down as far as possible into a squat without letting your knees fall in toward each other.
- Pause, then drive through your heels to return to starting position. That’s one rep.
Kalika says that being able to do single-leg squats without dropping the knee, hiking the pelvis, or rotating away is a great goal for all runners. After all, running is pretty much just performing alternating single-leg squats for miles at a time.
- Stand tall with your back facing a flat bench, and lift one foot a few inches in front of you.
- Push your hips back and bend your knees to lower down as far as possible into a single-leg squat. Once you master lowering to touch your glutes to the bench without relaxing onto it, lower the bench or try lowering to the floor.
- Pause, then push through your planted heel to return to start. That’s one rep.
- Perform all reps, then repeat on the opposite side.