A lot of attention gets paid to foot strike these days. Unfortunately, it’s not one of the biggest problems runners face. The major factor that most often gets overlooked is hip extension. Since our stride starts at the hip, that’s where we should focus to fix everything that happens after it starts. We need our hips to open for an efficient stride, to run faster and help prevent injuries.
How does a good stride start? The gluteus maximum fires. It creates most of our forward propulsion when running and causes hip extension. Unfortunately, this seemingly simple movement can be limited by several things. Hip flexor tightness, weak supporting muscles like the gluteus medius, groin tightness, unbalanced pelvic bones, quad tightness and even pronation of the feet can all restrict hip movement. This restricted movement creates all sorts of form errors, most commonly overstriding, and can lead to injuries.
To open our hips and help our most powerful asset, the glutes, function properly, we need to stretch and strengthen. Check that your glutes are firing when you run by feeling each thigh pulled back with every step. If you’re not sure, practice bridges or single leg deadlifts until you’re comfortable with what a working glute feels like.
When you know your glutes are working but still have some restriction, look to your hip flexors. Hip extension gets a whole lot tougher if they’re tight. Think of your hips like a bowl. You want to keep the bowl still and not spill all of the valuable energy they harness. Tight hip flexors can lead to lots of lost power by rocking that bowl forward and back with each step. Exercises like couch stretch and pigeon pose can loosen them up and should be done regularly.
Be sure to remember practice makes perfect. Any additional mobility or strength will change the way your body moves. Train with proper form at all times. When a run gets challenging, stop to reset. It’s hard work but those missed injuries and new PRs are worth it in the end.