This article is part of Endurance Planet’s ultrarunning article series. If you have questions, comments or feedback about “An Ultrarunner’s Strong Hips Can Lessen Leg Injuries”, please leave it below in the comments section…
Ultrarunners naturally tend to look for solutions that directly involve the affected or injured area. You’ve probably tried various running shoe designs, supportive insoles, straps and braces, and all manner of devices meant to correct or compensate for less than ideal feet, leg, and knee structure and movement. When you have to face all those miles you’re certainly going to need all the help you can get.
But have you ever thought about your hips? And how flexibility and strength at that joint are just as significant contributing factors? Recent researches (one from the University of Calgary and another from the University of Northern Iowa) however have actually pointed out the significant relation of hips to leg movement and how making the hips stronger can actually prevent leg injuries.
Adduction and abduction
These are the two general types of movements that your extremities make in relation to the imaginary centerline of your body. Adduction is movement inwards or towards the center and abduction is movement outwards or away from the center.
There are various muscles and connective structures along your legs that control these two movement types. One of the major ones that help control leg adduction is the iliotibial band that runs the whole length of your upper leg on the outer side and is connected to the tibia or shinbone on the lower end and to the hips on the upper end. The position and function of the iliotibial band is one example of how the hips are inherently involved in any leg movements.
Hip strength and leg mechanics
Irregular or excessive movement in the legs has often been attributed to over or under pronation. In other others, the feet are the first ones to always get blamed for leg injuries. But the new study from the University of Calgary mentioned earlier actually tested volunteers who had knee problems and gave them a routine set of hip strengthening exercises. The findings showed a positive change in the leg mechanics of the volunteers. Their strides improved in such a way that made their legs shift and absorb force in a more efficient manner. If hip muscles play a vital role in stabilizing leg movement, it follows that with stronger hip muscles your leg movement becomes more consistent. This in turn makes you less prone to injury.
Three examples of hip strengthening exercises recommended by the study involve building up hip abductor, flexor, and external rotator muscles. The activities involve use of an anchored elastic band that serves as a counter for the leg you’ll be moving. Here are brief descriptions of each:
- The hip abductor exercise requires the tied leg to be raised up and sideways while in a standing position. The elastic band crosses in front and is anchored to the side, and the leg you’ll be standing on should be positioned behind the band.
- In the hip flexor routine the band is anchored to the back and the aim is to raise the tied leg forward and up with the knees straight. This should also be done standing.
- The external rotator exercise is done sitting down. The band is anchored to the side and crosses in front. In the starting position, the tied leg is crossed over the untied one. The requirement is to move the tied leg outwards to side and then return to the starting position.
These exercises are recommended be done after a training run and not before to avoid tiring out the relevant hip muscles and thus actually make your stride less stable during the session. All movements in the exercise should be controlled and done on a 1-2 count moving out and then another 1-2 going back to the starting position.
Do you have questions about hip strengthening exercises, or what you’ve read so far? Do you have any ultrarunning pointers of your own to add? Please leave your feedback, comments and questions below, and we promise we’ll respond.