As we keep telling our runners in the FirstRun app, your running form is down to a combination of various moving parts. It’s all about making them work well in tandem. The key part is a strong core, which makes your lower body work in conjunction with the upper body. When it comes to your torso, the shoulders, neck and chest muscles regulate running form. And when it comes to the lower body, there’s nothing as important as your hip abductor muscles.
Gluteus Maximus, Gluteus Medius, Gluteus Minimus, and Tensor Fascia Lata together make up the hip abductor muscles, located in the buttocks and side-hip region on both sides of your body. It begins at the top of your buttocks, and stretches down till before your hamstring. Weakness in hip adductor muscles has been known to cause a ripple effect of injuries in your lower body, which can also have a telling impact on your lower back and core. You may be surprised to know that a lot of knee injuries are down to weak or inactivated hip abductor muscles.
One of the key functions of hip abductor muscles is stabilizing the pelvis and knee during activities such as cycling and running. The adductors keep the hips and knees balanced, creating a natural alignment, which many of us know as rhythm. When they are weak or under strain, hip abductors cannot co-ordinate the various movements in your lower body, leading to missteps, irregular impact on knees and shin, as well as stress and inflammation in hamstring. In many ways, the hip abductor muscles are the engine of your lower body.
In addition to a decrease in your running power, you would be faced with increased risk of injury. The good news is that most routine workouts involved strengthening these muscles. Some simple exercises are enough to activate and make your hip adductors stronger, and more fortified.
Supine Glute Activation
To get your glutes in shape, start with simple exercises such as a supine glute activation. Lie on your back, with your left ankle crossed over your right thigh. With your hands crossed on your chest, contract your right buttock and lift your hips until your body forms a straight line from the right knee to the neck. Try not to use your hamstrings to lift yourself. Complete 10 repetitions and then work your left glute.
This exercise (seen above) will loosen up your hip flexors, which if tight can cause pulls and strains in your glute muscles. Step forward and lower your back knee. Keep your knee over your ankle. Hold for 30 seconds on each side. We recommend that you do this stretch after every run, without fail.
Single Leg Deadlift
Stand on one leg and put your other leg behind you and in the air. Keeping your shoulders back and your back straight, move forward and try to reach your hands toward the ground. Return back up and repeat. And make sure you switch your legs every 10 reps for a balanced workout.
Split Stance Deadlift
For this stand with your left foot half a step behind your right foot and with your right foot flat on the floor beneath your hip and only the toes of your left foot touching the floor. Bend at the hips and knees as you reach down with full extended arms and grab dumbbells placed on either side of your right foot.
Pause briefly when in the up position and then lower the dumbbells back toward the floor, stopping just before they touch the ground. Repeat, and do 10 reps for each leg.
Single Leg Squat
In order to maximize use of the whole Glute family, single leg squats can be super effective, even though they are a bit of a challenge to execute for unpracticed exercisers. Unlike other squats where the key is to move your centre of gravity forward to increase strength in the glutes area, the single leg squat works by forcing the centre of gravity backwards. On the ladder of exercise progression, this one is higher in terms of difficulty and intensity. Beginners can do this exercise at home with some kind of an indicator of how far back they can move. A chair is especially useful, letting you know there’s a target to be found behind you.
From a standing position, stick one leg out in an acute angle to the ground, but not touching the floor. Now slowly move your hips and butt back as if sitting on a chair with one leg stretched out. Try to lower yourself without letting the dangling foot touch the floor. Keep lowering till stretched out leg is more or less parallel to the ground.