Are hip-strengthening exercises part of your workout?
The average recreational runner today spends most days sitting, which tightens the hip flexor muscle. Weak hip muscles in runners force surrounding muscles to overwork to compensate and can lead to knee pain, back pain, and other overuse injuries, according to this study.
Genetics also plays a role in the development of hip muscles – some runners have less developed hip muscles than others.
By adding hip stretches to your pre-run stretching routine and hip strength training to your workouts, you can develop stronger hip muscles that will make you a better runner.
In this post, we’ll be focusing on the most effective hip-strengthening exercises for runners, including hip stretches to add to your dynamic warm-up before a run and plyometric exercises.
In This Article:
Which Hip Muscles to Target
These include the gluteus maximus, the main extensor muscle of the hip. They also include the hip abductors, such as the gluteus medius and tensor fascia latae, which enable the leg to rotate at the hip. Last but not least, the hip adductors provide balance and support.
For best results when working your hip muscles, you want to target the gluteus maximus, the main extension muscle, and the gluteus medius at the side of the hip.
At the same time, you don’t want to overwork the tensor fascia latae in front of the hip joint, as it may cause you back, hip, or knee pain.
Benefits of Hip-Strengthening Exercises
As a ball and socket joint, the hip suffers from wear and tear over the years. This may be more accentuated in runners, who use the joint more than less active people.
By strengthening the hip flexor muscles and other muscles of the hips, you help reduce this wear and tear by making the muscles better at supporting weight and movement.
Working your hip muscles can also reduce knee pain since the hip controls the position of the knee. You may also prevent and lessen back pain and speed up recovery from overuse injuries.
Hip replacements are on the rise in the United States, with the total estimated hip replacements expected to increase by 200% by 2030. Higher life expectancy, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle are some of the key factors driving up hip replacements.
Doctors frequently recommend hip exercises after total hip replacement. Some of the exercises we will share with you can be integrated into your hip exercise program for hip pain.
But if you’re recovering from a hip injury or surgery, it’s important to talk to your doctor before embarking on a specific program.
Dynamic Warm-Up for Hip Mobility
A hip flexor stretch will improve your hip mobility before runs. Also, with hip stretches, you can lessen hip and knee pain and prevent it after long, intense runs. You want these stretches for hip pain in your workout.
At the same time, you can do hip-strengthening exercises as part of a home exercise program after a hip fracture or total hip replacement. Hip flexor strengthening exercises will make you the proud owner of stronger, more balanced hip muscles.
Read on to discover hip workouts, including hip flexor stretches and how to stretch hip flexors effectively to increase hip mobility.
1. Frankenstein walk
The first of our hip flexor stretches may sound scary, but it’s not. In addition to your hip muscles, this exercise also works your hamstrings and quads.
Difficulty: All levels
Duration: 1 minute
- Start with arms extended and palms down.
- Move forward, swinging your leg up – you want to extend it straight out.
- Lower your leg to the floor.
- Swing your other leg the same way.
2. Hip circles
Boost your stability and flexibility with this easy exercise for runners.
Difficulty: All levels
Reps: 20 per leg
- Stand on one leg with your hands on your waist and the other leg off the ground.
- Move the unsupported leg in circles in each direction.
- Repeat with the other leg.
3. Banded hip march
You’ll need a looped band for this exercise. It’s handy to have for different hip flexor exercises, so you may as well get one.
Reps: 5 to 8 for each leg
- Place a looped resistance band around the balls of your feet and stand with your core engaged.
- Drive your knee slowly up to hip height.
- Keep your supporting foot, knee, and hip lined.
- Lower your lifted leg to the floor.
- Alternate with the other leg.
4. World’s greatest stretch
This one sounds impressive and is just great as a dynamic hip-mobility warm-up exercise.
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
Reps: 5 for each side
- Begin in a plank position, your body straight and core engaged.
- Move the right foot forward, placing it next to your right hand.
- Lift your right hand and place it behind your head and lower the elbow so that it touches the ground.
- Reach with the elbow toward the sky or ceiling while rotating your torso right. Maintain the position for 3 seconds.
- Put your hand back down, place the leg into the original plank position, and repeat with the opposite leg and arm.
5. Banded glute bridge
Another band exercise next. In this one, the band helps ensure you’re doing the glute bridge correctly.
Difficulty: All levels
- Lie on your back and put the looped band above your knees.
- Bend your knees so that your feet lie on the floor.
- Engage your core and glutes.
- Push through your heels to raise your hips, careful not to let the knees fall inwardly.
- Lower yourself to the floor to complete a rep.
We started with hip flexor stretches as part of a dynamic warm-up. Now let’s look at some effective hip flexor strengthening exercises. These are great as hip-strengthening and mobility exercises for runners.
When done right, a hip flexor exercise for runners engages your main hip muscles without overworking them. Some of these exercises are good for prehab or rehab. The lighter ones are also popular as hip-strengthening exercises for seniors.
So, here are some of the best hip-strengthening exercises you can try.
6. Side steps
Side steps are one of the simplest and most effective glute activation drills for runners. It fires up your hip adductors and warms you up for running, reducing your risk of injury.
Duration: 2 minutes
- Stand with feet together, knees slightly bent.
- Step to the side with one foot.
- Step with the other foot to meet it.
- Step 3 times in the same direction.
- Repeat in the opposite direction to complete a rep.
Next on our list of hip-strengthening exercises are clamshells.
- Lie on one side of your body with one leg stacked on top of the other at the ankle and knee, and both legs slightly bent.
- As you keep the feet together and your spine straight, rotate the hip of the top leg so that the knee rises away from the other knee and points toward the ceiling.
- Lower your leg back down to complete one rep.
- Once you’ve done your reps, switch position and repeat with the other leg.
8. Lateral steps with resistance band
Here’s another effective exercise for strengthening the gluteus medius and overall hip stability. It’s similar to side steps but more difficult because of the resistance band.
- Wrap the band around both legs, placing it above each ankle – it should be taut.
- Bend your knees and move into a half-squat position.
- Distribute your weight evenly on both feet while maintaining your feet lined with your shoulders.
- Shift weight to one leg and step sideways with the other, repeating the movement 10 times.
- Shift weight again slowly and switch legs, repeating with the other leg.
Tip: Keep your back straight and face forward through the exercise.
9. Single-leg glute bridge
Simple and effective, the single-leg glute bridge works all your glute muscles.
Difficulty: All levels
- Lie on your back on the floor with your arms resting at your side.
- Bend one knee and position the foot on the mat while extending the other leg to the ceiling.
- Engaging your core, press your heel into the mat and raise your pelvis off the floor.
- Lower your pelvis to return to the initial position.
10. Donkey kicks
Talking of exercises for runners, we can’t leave out donkey kicks. It’s good to use a yoga mat for this one.
Difficulty: All levels
Reps: 20 on each side
- Start by sitting in a tabletop position.
- Lift your right knee and, as you keep it bent, kick upward.
- Move the bottom of your foot toward the sky or ceiling.
- Return to the tabletop position.
- Repeat on the other side.
11. Front lunge
Ever tried a front lunge? If you have, you may have been strengthening your hip muscles without realizing it.
Reps: 10 per side
- Stand with feet staggered wider than your shoulders. One foot should be in front, the other behind with the heel lifted.
- Bend your front knee while the back knee bends only a little.
- Straighten your front leg and return to the initial position.
- Do all the reps with one leg before switching sides.
12. Straight leg raise
Next, here’s one of the best exercises for relieving hip pain while at the same time making your hip muscles stronger.
Reps: 5 per leg
- Lie on a side, bending one leg and resting your foot on the ground.
- Lift your top leg as high as you can – don’t bend your waist.
- Hold the position for five seconds, making sure your leg is aligned with your trunk.
- Do all reps with one leg and switch legs.
13. Squat to reverse lunge
Our list continues with another popular exercise that’s good for working the hip muscles.
Reps: 10 on each leg
- Stand with feet a bit wider than your hip-width. Keep your upper body straight and your hands in front of you in a pyramid position.
- Push knees outward and bend knees as you lower into a squat.
- Stand up and step one leg back into the reverse lunge position.
- Step back to return to the starting position.
- Do the reps with one leg and then switch to the other leg.
14. Weighted sumo squat
For this one, you’ll need two dumbbells. You can increase the weight to make the exercise more challenging.
Difficulty: All levels
- Stand with feet wider than your shoulders, holding a dumbbell in each hand. The weight should fall between your legs.
- Push knees outward as you bend them and lower into a sumo squat. Your back should remain straight.
- Stand back up and repeat for the total number of reps.
15. Banded air squat
Back to the looped band. This exercise is more demanding than the usual squat and works your glutes better.
Difficulty: Intermediate to Advanced
- Place the looped band above your knees and stand with feet wider than hip-width apart.
- Push hips back into a sitting position as you bend your knees until your thighs are parallel to the floor.
- Maintain the position for 3 seconds and rise slowly to work your glutes well.
- Return to the starting position.
16. Lateral lunge
Here’s another glute exercise that calls for dumbbells.
- Stand with feet together, arms at your side, holding a dumbbell in each.
- Take a 2-feet step to the right, hinging at the hip when your foot meets the ground and bending your knee into a lunge. Keep your back leg straight and the weights on both sides of your lowered knee.
- Maintain the position for a moment and then return to the initial position to complete the rep.
17. Bridge with miniband
Last but not least, here’s another effective exercise for correcting muscle imbalance in the hips. You’ll need a miniband for this one.
Duration: Maintain for 10 seconds
- Place the miniband below the knees and lie on the floor with your knees bent at a 45-degree angle. Put your palms at your sides.
- Spread your feet and knees so that you feel the tension in the band.
- Pull your toes to your shin and lift the hips off the floor.
- Maintain the position for 10 seconds, making sure the knees and shoulders remain aligned in a straight line.
Extra Hip-Strengthening Exercises for Runners
Let’s end with a series of advanced hip-strengthening exercises for runners. Once you’ve gone through the exercises we’ve already shared with you, you can move on to these.
Bird dog hip-strengthening exercise
- Get down in tabletop position with knees under hips and hands under shoulders.
- Engage your core and raise your arm, extending it in front of you in a straight line.
- Raise your right leg and straighten it.
- Maintain the position for 5 seconds.
- Return to the initial position and repeat.
Side-lying gluteus hip abduction
- Lie on your side with your body straight and hips and feet stacked.
- Put your lower hand on the floor for support and your upper hand on your upper hip.
- Engage your core and extend and raise your top leg as high as you can while keeping the knee straight.
- Return to the initial position slowly.
- Roll over and repeat with the other leg.
Reps: 10 on each side
- Bend from the hips and knees and lower your behind toward the floor. The back stays flat. Move your weight to the right side and lift the leg off the floor a little.
- Squat slowly by pushing your hips back.
- Bend your right knee to a 90-degree angle.
Here’s a recap of the main points we’ve been discussing so far.
- Strong hips don’t just look good but make you a better runner by improving your strength, balance, and mobility.
- By working your hip muscles, you reduce hip joint wear and tear and associated pain, better manage related injuries, reduce the risk of further injuries, and can manage conditions like osteoarthritis and recover faster after a hip replacement.
- The key hip muscles you want to work on are the hip flexor muscles and the hip adductors.
- You don’t want to overtrain the tensor fascia latae as it may cause you back, hip, or knee pain.
- Start with dynamic warm-up hip mobility exercises, then do hip-strengthening exercises, and then progress to advanced hip-strengthening exercises for runners.
Now that you’re ready to integrate hip-strengthening and mobility exercises into your workouts, go ahead and do it. Start slow and steady, and don’t overtrain. Listen to your body!
- Winter, S., 2015. Effectiveness of targeted home-based hip exercises in individuals with non-specific chronic or recurrent low back pain with reduced hip mobility: A randomised trial. Journal of back and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, 28(4), pp.811-825.
- Willy, R.W. and Davis, I.S., 2011. The effect of a hip-strengthening program on mechanics during running and during a single-leg squat. Journal of orthopaedic & sports physical therapy, 41(9), pp.625-632.
- de Jesus, F.L.A., Fukuda, T.Y., Souza, C., Guimarães, J., Aquino, L., Carvalho, G., Powers, C. and Gomes-Neto, M., 2020. Addition of specific hip strengthening exercises to conventional rehabilitation therapy for low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical rehabilitation, 34(11), pp.1368-1377.
- Lun, V., Marsh, A., Bray, R., Lindsay, D. and Wiley, P., 2015. Efficacy of hip strengthening exercises compared with leg strengthening exercises on knee pain, function, and quality of life in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 25(6), pp.509-517.
- Santamaría, G., Rodríguez, I., Rodríguez-Pérez, V., Cobreros-Mielgo, R., Lantarón-Caeiro, E., Seco-Casares, M. and Fernández-Lázaro, D., 2023. Effect of Hip Muscle Strengthening Exercises on Pain and Disability in Patients with Non-Specific Low Back Pain—A Systematic Review. Sports, 11(9), p.167.
- Kendall, K.D., Emery, C.A., Wiley, J.P. and Ferber, R., 2015. The effect of the addition of hip strengthening exercises to a lumbopelvic exercise programme for the treatment of non-specific low back pain: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of science and medicine in sport, 18(6), pp.626-631.