My friend Linda, to whom I have offered coaching advice, told me the other day she was having hip pain, keeping her from running. She said her physical therapist evaluated it as weak glutes, which they are working to strengthen. This led to me rereading my August 11, 2015 blog post, It’s the Hips!, which offered no substantive advice on strengthening. So this post intends to do that.
First point is to define the hips. And while this may be simplistic, from a runner’s perspective let’s consider the broad definition of hips as our core. John Davis in RunnerConnect defines “core” as all of the muscles of the lower trunk and pelvis: not just the abs and back, but also hip flexors, glutes, abductors, and adductors. He states further that these hip muscle groups are particularly important because they’re involved in a range of running injuries.
When you look at the descriptions on the side of machines at the gym of what muscles are targeted, there’s often a range, with some primary, some secondary. That can be useful information but the real question is whether our overall strength training routine gets at the full range of core muscles. If we take the glutes, for example, there is Glute Maximus, Medius, and Minimus and if that’s not enough the Tensor Fasciae Latae, which adjacent to the glutes serves to move and stabilize the hips. Together, the glutes are the body’s largest and most powerful muscle group. So if we runners don’t keep them strong and limber, we’re in for trouble.
Many gyms have numbers on their machines, suggesting there is an optimal order and number of exercises to cover all the bases. However, this is a one-size-fits-all approach. The needs of all runners are not the same. I have found some unconventional ways of using machines to strengthen the hips. One is to fold the leg over the pad of the chin-assist machine and do a downward press, with the hip being the fulcrum. I call it the Hip Press. This gets at every part of the hip. Another is on the multi-hip machine to put the leg over the roller pad and push it down and under rather than out to the side as generally prescribed. This simulates the running motion. Likewise, if you step on the foot bar of the seated chest press with your hands against the back rest, you work the hip flexors from another angle. More conventional exercises are weighted lunges and the hip abductor/adductor machines. Further down the chain is weighted heel dips, which strengthen and stretch everything from the heel up to the glutes. I suggest emphasizing the eccentric aspect of all for all these exercises, in a slow, measured manner.
I have found to cover all the bases of the core takes about 12 different exercises. If you assume 90 seconds for each, that’s about 20 minutes, assuming you don’t have to wait for a machine and you keep moving. That may seem like a lot, and it is. But since it all starts from the core, then I’d rather err on the side of too much than too little.
Any way we cut it, our core, and the hips in particular, is the driver of both our ability to perform and over time to accomplish activities of daily living, or ADLs. So I highly recommend giving this aspect of your strength training proper attention.