The Importance of Hip Extension for Runners
Two important goals for runners should be efficiency and injury prevention. If you focus on these two goals, you will be setting yourself up for success. The feet and knees get a lot of attention and they are important. But, let’s not forget about the importance of the hip, more specifically, hip extension. This may be the most important. Let me explain.
Hip extension is supposed to be the where the body generates most of its forward force while running. The most power is generated from gluteus maximus contraction. Some of the other muscles of the lower kinetic chain also provide forward force but they should be supportive rather than primary generators of forward movement.
If the glute max is not generating enough forward thrust, the other muscles in the leg will have to compensate for the decrease in force. This is why the lack of proper glute max strength or contraction can contribute to some of the typical running injuries, including IT band syndrome, Achilles tendinosis, patellofemoral dysfunction and even plantar fasciitis.
What Restricts Hip Extension?
The pelvis is an important stabilizing structure. It is the foundation for the trunk and becomes a point of leverage while running. If the muscles that stabilize your pelvis are weak, your biomechanics will suffer and may restrict your hip extension.
Hip extension can be restricted due to an assortment of issues. Finding the culprit(s) is important. A few common reasons for poor hip extension include:
- Weakness of pelvic stabilizing muscles (primarily Gluteus Medius)
- Hip flexor (Psoas/Iliacus, Rectus Femoris) tightness
- Quadricep (Rectus Femoris) tightness
- Adductor(groin) tightness
- Pronation of the feet
- Gluteus Maximus inhibition/weakness
- Joint capsule restrictions
This is just a sample of the issues that I typically see, but they are frequent among runners. There are a lot of ways to approach correcting these issues. I use a combination of stretching tight muscles, strengthening weak muscles, Active Release Technique® and Graston Technique® to reduce soft tissue adhesions and specific chiropractic adjustments to induce proper joint mobility. That is just a selection of the approaches that are available.
Physical therapy is another great treatment option. Physical therapists do a lot of helpful things but in particular, I find their abilities to strengthen and activate weak and inhibited muscles to be beneficial for long term recovery. I’ve seen great results treating soft tissue adhesions while my patients are also participating in physical therapy.
What to Do At Home
There are a few things you can try at home to prevent or correct this issue. First, makesure you stretch any muscle that is tight and may be contributing to hip dysfunction. Stretching the hip flexors is important. If your hip flexors are tight, you undoubtedly have lost some degree of hip extension. I recommend holding the stretch for 5 normal breaths which equates to roughly 30 seconds.
As noted above, strengthening the gluteus medius is important for every runner as it provides pelvic stabilization. I recommend the lateral leg raise. I usually recommend 2 sets of 15 repetitions or until burn out if you can’t reach that many reps.
These are just a couple of key changes you can make at home. I recommend seeing someone who can evaluate and prescribe specific corrections but these tips are helpful for all runners.
If you continue to have lower leg injuries during your training cycles, this should be evaluated if it hasn’t been already. This is not the only reason for these issues, but it should definitely be ruled out.
Your Hip Extension
Have you experienced a running related hip injury? What treatment have you tried?