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Importance of Hip Strength and Single Leg Strength for Runners

Posted on: March 31st, 2024 by Our Team

Running is more than just a physical activity; it’s a lifestyle and a passion, yet running-related injuries are very common and present as obstacles for many to achieving their goals and doing what they love. Numerous factors can contribute to running injuries, from running experience and training errors, to running mechanics and biomechanical impairments. Many runners will attempt to rest from running, and once their pain is gone, they pick up where they left off, but often find themselves once again with pain. This is often because they have not addressed the factors that led to injury in the first place and/or have not addressed the strength of the injured tissue. An often-forgotten aspect of training is incorporating strength training. Strength training increases tissue strength required for the demands of running. It facilitates injury rehab as well as reduces the risk of injury.

Unlike most other sports, running is a straight-forward, one-plane movement, not requiring multi-directional or lateral movements. Therefore, the training stimulus is only directed to those muscles that propel us forward, and minimal stimulus is placed on those muscles that control movements in other directions. These muscles, more specifically the hip muscles, to be addressed here, tend to be weak and must be strengthened through training other than running – strength training.

Why is hip strength so important? The hip muscles are one of the main muscles that help control running form. Biomechanical abnormalities or inefficiencies can contribute to poor performance or increase the risk of injury. Weak hip strength is often correlated with higher injury rate. Weak hip muscles tend to lead to faulty movement patterns and allow for hip drop. Hip drop occurs when the opposite hip of the stance leg drops below the level of the stance hip, rather than both hips remaining level, as it should for optimal running form. When hip drop occurs, it places stress on each joint of the lower leg, as well as the muscles and tendons. This stress, when applied repetitively, over thousands of steps and many miles, eventually could lead to injury if the tissues of the leg do not have the strength capacity to handle those stresses. Physical therapists can develop customized treatment plans to address these issues. These plans may include a combination of manual therapy techniques, corrective exercises, strength training, and flexibility exercises tailored to the individual’s specific needs and goals. By addressing underlying biomechanical deficits, physical therapists can help runners improve their running efficiency, reduce the risk of injury, and enhance overall performance.

Now, hip muscles are not the only muscles that need to undergo strength training, but they are highlighted here because they are typically the most neglected. Appropriately designed strength training programs supplement training for runners well by increasing the capacity for those tissues for the demands of running and making them more resilient to sustaining an injury.

Running is a unique movement in another perspective which means it must be addressed in this capacity as well. It is a single leg activity one hundred percent of the time – both feet never touch the ground simultaneously. Therefore, each individual leg must absorb the force of impact as it lands on the ground, stabilizes the entire body, and produces force to propel the body forward, all independently. However, even though every runner must be able to do each of these steps on one leg over and over, how well do we perform the basics? Balancing on one leg, performing a single leg calf raise, and performing a single leg squat are some of the foundational movement patterns required for running but often present as a great challenge for some runners. Runners not only must be able to perform these movements statically, but also complete them in a dynamic manner and repetitively over numerous miles even with the onset of fatigue.

Running is a foundational movement in its essence, but if one is not properly prepared for the demands of running, the muscles, tendons, and joints can eventually undergo more stress than they can handle, leading to injury. While not the only factors contributing to injury, hip strength and single leg strength are more often disregarded. Strength training should be an essential component of runners’ training plan, incorporating both hip and single leg activities to address running-specific demands.

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