Hip Flexor Tightness in Distance Runners

by allylofgren | 13 Comments

Now that spring is here and it is beautiful outside, a lot of runners really begin to build their mileage. When this happens, I usually start to see a lot of hip flexor pain and tightness. This problem is really common in distance runners. Tight hip flexors are a major cause of many posture problems. In runners, it is mainly caused by repetitive use and weak glutes. In people who sit a lot, well, it is caused by sitting a lot. This posting covers what to do if you are running a lot.

Addressing hip flexor tightness in runnersThe main purpose of the hip flexor is to bring the thigh up towards the stomach. When the hip flexors are excessively tight, they cause exaggerated pelvic anterior tilt (the person sticks his or her butt out and the lower back arches). The upper back curves and rounds, and the person’s chin can stick out and “lead” in front. Sometimes tight hip flexors can begin to do the abdominals’ work and make it difficult to benefit from some abdominal exercises. Tight hip flexors cause the primary hip extensors, the gluteal group, to become lengthened and weaker.

One big contributing factor to hip flexor tightness is that the glutes just aren’t as active as other running muscles during most activities. This causes your hamstrings, quadriceps, and calves to become much stronger. Also, let’s face it, do most people have a strength-training program that isolates and increases glute strength? Probably not. Most of us do squats and lunges and call it a day. However, if an exercise requires several muscles to perform the movement, most of the work is done by the strongest of those muscles and those aren’t your glutes.

The good news is that you don’t need to join a gym, buy a lot of expensive special stuff, or even leave your house to remedy the situation. There are a lot of body weight and resistance band exercises and stretches that you can do at home that will help you resolve this problem. Here they are!

STRETCHING
Remember to dynamically stretch BEFORE exercise and statically stretch AFTER exercise.

I call my number one, go-to hip flexor stretch the Pirate Stretch. It is very easy, and I call it the Pirate Stretch because, well, you look like a pirate when you do it.

  • Stand up with feet even.
  • Step forward into a lunge.
  • Bend and lower your back knee. Keep your lunging knee over your ankle.
  • Hold for 20-30 second.
  • Do it on the other side.
  • Remember that you should only stretch to mild tension!

FOAM ROLLING (AKA: Self-Myofascial Release)
Foam RollingFoam rolling is a form of massage that enables you to release the tension of your muscles by yourself. Let it be noted that I LOVE foam rolling. I am a total geek about it. That said, if you are tight and are new to foam rolling, when you first start it will probably hurt. Keep at it, it really works.

  • Lay on the roller right below your hip angled out.
  • Roll back and forth on the roller until you find the tight spot.
  • Sit on the tight spot for 20-30 seconds. Find the next spot and repeat.

EXERCISES
Fire HydrantFire hydrants

  • Begin by placing both hands and knees on the floor; your back should form a tabletop.
  • Keep both legs bent in a 90-degree angle and toes flexed throughout the duration.
  • While keeping hips forward, lift your right leg out to the side until it is parallel to the ground or at maximum height. Pause and bring leg back to start position.
  • Repeat for 12 reps and repeat with the opposite leg.

BridgesBridging

  • Begin this exercise while lying on your back with both knees bent at about a 45-degree angle and both feet flat on the floor.
  • Let your arms rest at your sides.
  • Slowly lift the hips by pushing on the floor with your feet until your knee, hip, and shoulder are a straight line.
  •  Repeat for 12 reps.

Lateral band walks

  • Put resistance band on above each ankle.
  • Separate feet slightly as you get into a 45-degree angle squat with your abs tucked (feel like you are trying to touch your belly button to your backbone).
  • Step laterally.
  • Keeping your shoulders even, bring other foot in towards the lead leg to finish your step.
  • Repeat in the same direction for the length of the room.
  • Return to the other side of the room facing the same direction.

    Lateral Walks   Lateral Walks

Monster walk

  • Put resistance band on above each ankle.
  • Separate feet slightly as you get into a 45-degree angle squat with your abs tucked (feel like you are trying to touch your belly button to your backbone).
  • While staying down low in the ready position, bring one leg out and forward then swing this leg out laterally to the side.  You will “pull” the leg out to the side against the resistance of the stretched ankle band as you finish each step.
  • Bring the other foot forward towards the lead leg, then go right into the next step.  Keep feet separately slightly during transition in order to maintain band tension.  Do not allow band to get loose.
  • Repeat in the same direction for the length of the room.

These stretches and strengthening exercises will keep you fresh and on the move throughout the endurance season. If you do them consistently, you will feel much better before, during, and after your runs.

13 Comments

  1. Margaret S.

    I love your suggestions! They are so helpful. I love that you don’t need special equipment either. You are the best!

  2. maurice

    Can a few seconds of static stretch really undo hours and miles of damage from running? How about running or walking backwards? It just makes sense to contract the muscles that are used to being stretched and the reverse. Also, given the time element, the effect would be much greater than stretching, not to mention an enhanced cardiovascular benefit as well.
    It would be better to bring attention to this ignored but common sense solution to the tight hip flexors that come from long distance running.

  3. Jo C

    My right hip pretty much seized up after my last half marathon in February and physio diagnosed weak right glute. Have been doing exercises (variations on the above) ever since but have noticed no improvement. I can run, but my hip goes stiff after a couple of minutes and I can only really manage a mile or so comfortably. I am completely miserable, I’m 34 would hate to think that this was the end of running for me. Are there any sports that strengthen glutes without the need for sets of exercises like the above, which I now found pretty tedious? I do yoga, plus cycle and swim, but nothing seems to be helping! Thanks!

  4. Lee

    Great hip stretches and glute exercises. Any advicce on what to do if you’re sitting at work all day? Is there a different way to sit, or is standing better?

    I’ve had significant hip issues while running since I started a new job that requires a lot of sitting.

  5. Cooking Bucket List

    […] Happy Almost Friday everyone! I don’t know about you, but this week has been going by slowly for me. I thought yesterday was Thursday, which means I thought today is Friday. BOO. Even though Friday is my sleep-in day, I still remembered that I wanted to run on Thursday. So run I did. I can tell my body is still getting back at it, so I tried to take it easy (especially with my right hip pain). I was going to go out for 5 miles, but cut it a bit short to leave plenty of time to do some rolling and stretching. I also did some sexy fire hydrant lifts for kicks (but actually they’re supposed to help with hip pain). […]

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