Strengthening the Hip Flexors

It’s hard to describe what proper running form should look like and include, and beyond that there’s a fair amount of disagreement. (I found some great sites that address some of these questions.) It appears there are a few key elements, having the foot land (more or less) under the body, not ahead of it. If the foot is landing ahead of the body, then you’re putting on the brakes the whole time, which is both inefficient and stressful.

And then there’s the mystery of the hips. The motion of the hips, I have on good authority, is critical to form. Perhaps you are already convinced of this. Maybe not. Here’s an excerpt from The Science of Sport blog, the authors, Ross Tucker, PhD, and Jonathan Dugas, PhD, published a book entitled The Runner’s Body in 2009. This taken from one of their excellent posts on running technique:

The hips are, as described by the Pose website, one of the more important parts to consider. This is where Pose theory is particularly strong. Ideally, the hips should be as far forward as possible (within reason) because the hips are more or less where the centre of mass is. As we described the other day, if you land well in front of your centre of mass, you decelerate. That’s one reason why when you run downhill, you feel like you are jarring much more. If you want to speed up on a downhill, you know what to do – simply lean forward. Not at the shoulders, but by getting your whole body tilted forward just a little. That means getting your hips in front. In otherwords, all runners know that when running down hill, they can control speed by moving their hips. Slowing down involves “sitting back”, or dropping the hips slightly.

Applying the same principle to running every where else, if you can just learn the habit of keeping your hips “high” then you will always be in this position. In otherwords, don’t “sit” and run at the same time – get your centre of mass up and forward, if you can. This is not easy, it requires quite strong core muscles, and so that’s why runners often benefit from some Pilates or gym training in this area. But the take home message is the same – get the hips up and lean forward if you want speed.

One of the biggest mistakes made by runners is to lean forwards at the shoulders. The problem if you do this is that you hips actually go backwards! This means that by putting the shoulders forwards, you even less likely to be in a position to harness gravity to go forward. This is most noticeable on uphills, where the temptation is to lean forward, hunched over. Not only does this hinder breathing, but it actually destroys your efficiency. Rather concentrate on leaning from the ankles, so that your hips are forward. It sometimes even helps to pull your shoulders back, as though you are standing in the upright, soldier ‘at attention’ position.

If one accepts this, how can one strengthen the hips, or improve mobility of said anatomical item?

Well, for one, you could check out the video of this little warm-up sequence, the Myrtl routine, posted by one Coach Jay, an ex-runner that “coaches several elites in Colorado”. The whole things looks to take about 6 minutes. It looks like a good warm up.

Besides, who could resist doing a few clams, donkey whips, or fire hydrants?


2 thoughts on “Strengthening the Hip Flexors

  1. Aimee Picchi

    Interesting post about hips and form — the problem I have is that I’m not sure where my hips are in relation to the rest of my body (does anyone know this without seeing videos of themselves?). I’m going to play around with this when I run. Maybe this is why I’m so slow — it would be nice if there’s a quick fix for my turtle-like speed.

    We work a lot in my pilates class on the hip flexors — but actually we’ve been trying NOT to engage them. What happens is that people tend to engage the hip flexors instead of using their core muscles. It’s hard to put the brakes on them, although just being aware of when you tense them or over-rely on them is super helpful.

    1. magnus26 Post author

      I still have only a vague idea of where my hips are. What are hips even? Even the dictum to ‘push through the hips’ is practically voodoo to me, but I *think* just maybe I am actually doing it. Actually, an outside observer said I was doing it. That’s all I have to go on, really. Engage, not-engage — it’s all so complicated!


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