When in pursuit of improving your running ability, the thought has always been, “just go run more!” And while that may be true in regards to endurance, that’s not always the case from a strength standpoint. People may argue that they “don’t want to get big,” so they completely avoid strength training. However, a strength training regimen is essential to maintaining a strong and stable kinetic chain, which in essence, is the foundation of running.
There are a few leg strengthening exercises that most people are familiar with, such as squats (for your glute max), deadlifts (for your hamstrings), leg extensions (for your quads), leg curls (for your hamstrings), calf raises (for your calves), and lunges (for your quads). Those may strengthen your legs, but there’s an important part of our kinetic chain that’s missing from the equation. I’m talking about your hips, specifically, your Gluteus Medius and Gluteus Minimus, located underneath your Gluteus Maximus (hereafter referred to as glute med, glute min, and glute max). I would argue that the former two (glute med and glute min) are the most crucial part of this whole equation. Your glute max is really just there for padding to protect the more important smaller muscles of the hip.
Kinetic Chain: Also known as the Kinematic Chain, is the notion that joints and segments have an effect on one another during movement. When one is in motion, it creates a chain of events that affects the movement of neighboring joints and segments.
Without strong hips, runners (and walkers) will experience what’s called hip-drop, resulting in lost energy and potential injury. With muscles pulling from distal to proximal (farthest to closest), your glute max originates from your tailbone and plugs into the top of your IT Band. That means that it doesn’t even touch your thigh bone, so all the squats in the world will not correct your hip-drop. However, your glute med and min originate from your hip bone and plug straight into the top of your thigh bone. Strong hips will prevent hip-drop where weak hips will not.
Why does this even matter? How much energy is lost? Think about a Pole Vaulter’s pole.
It is both stiff, yet very pliable (just like your body). It’s the pole’s pliability that gives it the energy return to fling the athlete over the bar. If there was even the smallest kink in his pole (weak hip muscles), not only would he not be able to get up over the bar, but the pole might even break!
What is 'hip drop'?
(In this example, the right hip muscles are weak, causing the hips to drop to the left.)
If the runner is experiencing hip-drop, there is a kink in the pole and the following chain of events will happen:
- The runner's left thigh will angle inward and the left foot will angle outward to over-compensate
- The runner lands duck-footed with a crooked, stretched out leg (heel strike)
- Degradation of the knee and eventual injury to/tearing of ligaments
How To Strengthen Your Hips:
Hip Abduction Machine
- Position your body in an elongated fashion so that you’re externally rotating at the hip, rather than only abduction.
½ Pistol Squats
- As you hinge at your hip, drive your weight through your heel.
- Be sure your knee stays straight and doesn’t angle inward.
1-legged box step ups
- Can be done on either side of the treadmill facing forward.
- With the leg on the box, keep your shin 100% vertical.
- Arch your back and stick your butt out.
- Slowly press your weight through only the heel of the foot on the box until you feel pressure in your hip.
- Clench your butt to drive your hip forward.
1 Legged Leg Press Machine
- Position only 1 leg on the platform angled inward about 45 degrees.
- While keeping the force driving through your heel, lower the platform.
- Engage your hip muscle and keep your knee pulled outward as you lower and raise the platform.
Through my experiences working with everyone from the avid runner to the average Joe, I found most people have never done these exercises or focused on strengthening their hips. Therefore, many of them experience the excessive hip drop that is demonstrated in the video above. If you were of the belief that “more running = better results,” I hope this article helped you to reconsider.