Running From the Hip: Hip Flexor Stretches More Flexibility & Extension

By David Jennings at Johnson and Hayes Physical Therapy

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Running is one of the most popular forms of physical activity. About 60 million people participate in running events worldwide every year. Two big reasons may be that it’s inexpensive and convenient: All you need is a pair of sneakers to get started. However, that doesn’t mean it’s easy.

Running is tough work: You need muscle power, strength, endurance, and stabilization – especially if you’re pursuing long distance or marathon running. And arguably, the hip is the most important joint for running. Approximately 10% of runners experience back or hip pain.

In this article, we’ll dive into preventive measures and the best hip stretches for runners. First, though, let’s take a look at what’s happening at the hip joint during the running movement.

Limited Hip Extensions Can Be Due to How the Hip Joint Moves During the Running Gait

The hip provides a lot of power: It drives the forward motion of running.

So where’s this power coming from? The majority of it is from the glute muscles and the hip flexors. The quads and hamstrings further help out.

When your foot takes off from the ground, your hip joint slightly extends. In other words, your knee falls behind your hip joint. This creates a greater stride length, which allows your glutes to propel your body forward. This also maximizes the use of the ankle muscles during push-off. Elastic energy is further stored in the front of the hip joint.

When your foot makes contact with the ground, the hip joint internally rotates - about 12-15°. Yet, issues such as injuries and pain may happen if you have limited hip extension, or when the hip joint over-rotates.

In the medical community, the latter is called ‘valgus’, You may also hear people refer to it as ‘knocked knees’. This over-rotation is not uncommon, either; it leads to a variety of injuries, including bursitis, tendinopathy, plantar fascia issues, and more.

So what’s the underlying cause here? Frequently, it’s due to a weak gluteus maximus muscle. When this muscle is weakened or imbalanced, it does not prevent excessive rotation of the hip, and it may cause abnormal curvatures of the spine or trunk.

The hip flexors may also create further issues. If the hip flexors are tight, they result in limited hip extension and may create excessive extension in the lower spine. Consequently, your running motion becomes inefficient.

So how can you prevent these common issues from happening?

Using Hip Flexor Strengthening Exercises and Stretches to Prevent Pain

Certain hip stretches for runners and hip flexor strengthening exercises go a long way in reducing your risk of developing back or hip pain. The following two are some of the best hip flexor exercises that outline how to increase your gluteus maximus strength. Additionally, these hip stretches show how to work out those problematic hip flexor muscles.

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The Glute Bridge Stretch for Tight Hips:

  • Lie face up on the ground.
  • Bend your knees and plant your feet near your buttocks
  • Squeeze your buttocks together and lift your hips up off the ground.
  • Hold here for 3-5 seconds.
  • If this feels comfortable, slowly extend one knee straight. Hold this position for 5-10 seconds.
  • Then, slowly lower back down.
  • Lift again and extend the opposite leg straight.
  • Perform 10-12 repetitions, 2-3 times a day.

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The Hip Flexor Stretch:

  • Set yourself up in a low lunge with your right knee on the ground.
  • Lean slightly forward. You should feel a gentle stretch through the front of your right hip.
  • For a deeper variation, lift your right arm up and over your head.
  • Hold for at least 20-30 seconds, then repeat on the opposite side.
  • You can perform this stretch 2-3 times per side every day.

Get Prescribed the Best Stretches for Your Hip Pain

If you’re experiencing hip or back pain, consider booking an appointment with a physical therapist. They’ll help you every step of the way, teaching you the best hip stretches for tight hips, and hip flexor exercises that help to correct your form. With their help, you’ll be back to feeling normal, faster.

You no longer need a prescription from a medical doctor to access physical therapy. You can use the BetterPT website or mobile app to find the right physical therapist near you and get started on your recovery program. Our app makes it easier than ever to find a PT you can trust that can prescribe the best hip flexor stretches for your needs. Start your journey toward a full recovery today.

Due to his strong background in sports medicine, Dr. David L. Jennings works with high level athletes with an in-depth knowledge of movement analysis, functional treatment, and dry needling as Clinic Director of Johnson and Hayes Physical Therapy. David L. Jennings graduated with a Doctorate of Physical Therapy from Belmont University. David L. Jennings also is a board-Certified Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy after completing Sports Clinical Residency at Vanderbilt Orthopaedic Institute.

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