Running is an activity that offers numerous health benefits, but also has a high association with lower body pain and injury. Several studies have confirmed the relationship between poor hip strength and common short and distance running injuries such as runners knee, IT band syndrome and Achilles tendonitis.

Even if you aren’t injured, it’s important to have good hip stability, because these are the muscles that track our knees and ankles when we run.

To combat the chances of injury, try these hip stabilization exercises to target some of the commonly weak muscles of the hip:

1. The clamshell

The clamshell is one of the most effective exercises you can do to target the gluteus medius, which is responsible for stabilizing the hip and preventing excessive internal rotation of the thigh when we run. This is why a weak gluteus medius can be a primary cause of hip and knee pain for runners.

To perform:

Lie on your side, with your knees bent and your heels in line with your sit bones. To set-up, tilt your pelvis to a neutral position, stack your hips on top of one another and roll your pelvis slightly forward. You will know you’re in the correct position if your top knee is slightly ahead of your bottom one.

Keeping your heels together and your feet on the ground, slowly lift your top knee towards the ceiling. Pause at the top and check that your hips have not rolled backwards. Slowly lower your leg. Repeat 8-10 times before switching sides.

You will know you’re doing it right if you feel the side and bottom edge of your backend engage. If you feel it in the upper hip or low back, you’ve probably lost your pelvic position. Try resetting the hips and making your movements smaller and slower to see if you can get a more precise engagement.

2. The bridge

The bridge is an important exercise for runners, because it targets the primary muscles used for hip extension, which is when the body recruits the most power during running. Poor hip extension can contribute to strain in areas like the IT band and Achilles tendons.

While the bridge can be practiced in a number of ways, it may be ideal for runners to practice bridging with a neutral pelvis, which allows for better recruitment of deep core and spinal stabilizers. This will help keep the spine stable and can reduce the chance of low back pain.

To perform:

Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat. Feet should be parallel and hip width distance apart. Find a neutral pelvis, by settling your hips in a place where the pubic bone is roughly in line with the top of the hip bones.

Keeping the area between the ribs and hips still and core engaged, push into your heels and big toe mounds to activate glutes. Use this glute engagement to slowly lift hips towards the ceiling. Pause when the front of the hips are open, but the ribs are still heavy towards the floor. Slowly lower hips to ground. Perform 8-12 times.

To increase challenge and incorporate the posterior oblique system, you can add a slow alternating leg lift at the top to of the bridge. Ideally, the hips are still as the legs move.

You know you are in the right place if you feel the bottom of your glutes fire first and your hamstrings fire second. You core should feel gently engaged the entire time. If your low back feels strained, this is a sign that you have extended in the low back instead of the hips. To fix this, focus on keeping ribs heavy and don’t lift the hips as high.

3. Lateral side step with band

The lateral side step is a good exercise to target the major hip abductors. These muscles tend to be weak in runners, because running takes place primarily in the sagittal plane. The side step also requires working upright and against gravity, which helps translate the motion more directly to running.

To perform:

Stand in the middle of a medium strength resistance band. Cross the band and anchor the band at the hips. Band should be taut between the feet. Check that the feet are facing forward, the pelvis is neutral and the knees are strong, but unlocked.

Keeping chest upright and hips square, slowly lift right leg. You should feel the side of your left hip fire. Pause for a moment and check that you are not leaning or side bending to the left. Maintain distance between the feet and replace the right leg. Repeat on the second side. Perform 8 to 12 sets total.

You know you’ve mastered the move if you feel engagement or even a slight burn in the side of the hip on the standing leg. If you don’t feel anything, check to make sure that your knees are not locked and you are maintaining an upright posture throughout the motion.

About the Author:

Nikki Naab-Levy, LMP, holds a B.S. in Exercise Physiology and a B.S. in Journalism from Ohio University. She has over a decade of experience in the fitness industry and is a certified Pilates teacher, MELT Method instructor and licensed massage therapist. Nikki has studied with several movement experts including Brent Anderson, PHD, Sue Hitzmann, MS and Brian Uttling LMP. She specializes in post-rehabilitative movement techniques, injury prevention and self care. She believes in getting results without pain. You can find Nikki on her blog, Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

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