While running is an overall healthy pursuit, training often leads to a number of imbalanced movement patterns that can cause issues over the long term. As with any sport, when you move through the exact same motions over and over again — a forward movement in running — it’s easy to neglect other parts of the body.
That neglect can contribute to poor mobility. While flexibility deals with how much you can stretch your muscles, mobility is concerned with range of motion in your joints. The hips are among the biggest trouble spots for runners in this department. Poor hip mobility leads to a number of inefficiencies in the running motion that can be linked to lackluster performance and even injuries.
Think about the action involved in lifting your foot off the ground and driving your knee forward with each running step. If there are impingements, tightness and poor range of motion in your hips, you won’t be able to hinge effectively and swing your leg forward while running. Compound that by over 1,000 (the steps you’ll take in a single mile), and you’ve got a potential problem.
To be sure, research has shown a clear link between improved hip mobility and running economy. Put simply, a runner uses less energy to run a given pace when his or her hips move the way they should. What’s more, results from other studies have emphasized the link between hip mobility and force production in running. The ability to capitalize on power and force as you push off with each step lends itself to more efficient and faster running.
The question: How should a runner improve hip mobility? Since static stretching, which involves standing or sitting in place while holding a stretched position, has been shown to have a detrimental affect on running performance, traditional stretching routines should be largely avoided by runners prior to workouts.
This is where dynamic stretching and plyometrics come in. These types of exercises take the body through active movement patterns that help increase mobility and improve running mechanics and muscle elasticity. Indeed, research has demonstrated that even just nine weeks of regular plyometric training can lead to significant improvements in running economy and performance.
If you’re looking to increase hip mobility for the sake of improving running performance and thwarting injuries, try plyometric and dynamic stretching drills three times per week. The following 10-minute routine is particularly effective after a short jogging warmup and prior to a hard workout or race.
Start by standing sideways, getting ready to move laterally to the left for 20 meters. At a jogging pace, drive your right knee up to a 90-degree angle and then across the front of your body, landing on the left side of your left foot.
Next, bring the left foot back to the original position so your legs are shoulder-width apart before quickly bringing your right foot back behind your body, planting it to the left of the left foot again.
After bringing the left foot back to the original position, repeat the sequence in one fluid motion. Hold your arms at midtorso to help balance your body as your hips rotate with each step. Keep in mind the knee should drive up and across your body explosively, and the feet should be moving fast for the entire 20 meters. When you reach the end, go back in the opposite direction, leading with the left leg.
With your feet hip-width apart, stretch your arms out in front of your body with palms facing downward. March forward, and swing your right leg up in front of your body. Be sure to maintain good posture and keep your knee straight as you create a 90-degree angle with your body. Once you plant the right leg back on the ground, swing the left leg up. Continue for 20 meters, and then turn around and go back the other way.
Lying on your back with your legs straight on the ground, extend your arms out to your sides so your body forms a T. Lift your right leg straight up in the air over your body, hinging at the hip, and drop the entire leg across your body, touching the ground with your right foot to the left of your body. Lift the leg back up, return it to the original position, and repeat with the left leg. You should feel your lower back and hips twisting with each of these motions. Repeat on each side 10 times.
Drop Step Lunge
Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, step your right leg back behind and across your body so that your right toes plant behind and to the left of your left foot. Lower your body down in a lunging motion with your legs crossed. Keep your back straight and your shoulder square with the front of the room. Stand back up, return to the original position and repeat on the other side. Repeat 10 times on each side.
Start with forward leg swings by standing next to a wall for balance. Swing your right leg forward out in front of your body and then back behind your body. Keep your leg straight as you do this, and avoid swinging past the point of discomfort.
After repeating with both legs, switch to the sideways variety. Similar to forward leg swings, simply swing the right leg toward the left, sweeping your foot across the front of your body, and then back to the right.
Repeat 15 leg swings in each direction on each leg.
Walking Lunges with Twist
Stand with your feet hip-width apart, holding a light medicine ball or dumbbell midchest. Step your right leg forward, and, as you plant your foot, lower your body into a lunge. Your right knee should be at a 90-degree angle and aligned with your right ankle. While you’re in that lunge position, twist the medicine ball to the left, rotating your torso. Slowly come back to center, stand up and repeat with the left leg. Continue for 20 meters.