Loosen Up Your Hips
While the hips don’t tend to get a lot of attention, they undergo an incredible amount of stress while you’re out on your runs. Of course, there’s the somewhat obvious factor of impact forces – which can create stress fractures and other bone-related issues – but the reality is that each step you take also puts repetitive demands on a variety of muscle fibers.
Your abs, lower back, glutes, quads and hamstrings all pull on your hips to move you forward. And then there are all of the smaller muscles nobody ever talks about. On your runs, then, it’s very possible that some pretty limiting tension could form in those muscle wrapping around your hips. But why does that matter? More to the point, what can you do about it?
Pain and Stiffness
To understand the problems that can arise as a result of over-tight hip muscles, you first need to understand what these muscles are doing. As mentioned, the muscles that move your hips and thighs form a complex network that includes around 20 different muscle groups.
Without rattling off the names of each and every muscle involved, the simplest way to understand this joint is to picture these fibers has being a pair of long shorts. This network of muscles runs from your knees, all the way around your thighs and connects to both the front and back of your core.
If one of these muscle groups is tight, then, it can very easily pull on your lower back or knees. At the same time, an overworked muscle will stop producing adequate amounts of force which will put excess strain on one of the other involves groups. So it’s all about maintaining balance.
Prevention and Treatment
So what can you do to stop any of these issues from forming in the first place? If you do start to have pain and discomfort in your hips, what can be done?
The primary preventative measure is running – and training in general – with proper form. In theory, these muscles should be able to maintain their optimum working order if they’re being used appropriately. But… that’s really just theory.
In practice, things rarely work that way. Things like genetics, terrain and gear can all impact your form for the good or bad, placing stress on any one of these interconnected muscle groups. Of course, once these problems are identified, you can correct them. Be mindful, however, that small genetic various – including differences in the length of your bones or mobility of your joints – are pretty immutable. Rather than trying to change these aspects, then, you’ll have to learn to work around them.
Which is where treatment comes in.
The primary anti-tension tool at your disposal is the simple, oft-forgotten act of stretching. Specifically, you’ll want to focus your attention on dynamic stretches that require hip-centric movements, instead of just hold a pose. In addition to increase hip flexibility, these movements will increase the overall balance and mobility of the target joints.
Perform these movements as part of your warm-up to get your hips limber for the coming run. Ideally, throw them after you’ve already warmed up your body as whole.
- Stand upright with your feet about shoulder-width apart. Lunge your right foot forward and slide your left foot back as far as possible.
- Keeping your core tight and your back straight, gently raise and lower your hips to gradually deepen the stretch for eight counts.
- Switch legs and repeat.
Chair Pose Squats
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. Balancing on your left foot, bend your right knee.
- Place your right ankle on your left thigh while sinking back into a squat. Keep your back straight.
- Interlace your finger and stretch your arms forward, palms facing away from you.
- Slowly straighten your left leg to return to standing.
- Repeat the entire movement for four reps and then switch legs.
- Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart.
- Keeping your core tight and your back straight, swing your right arm behind you and then bring up around for a full arm circle.
- At the same time, kick your left leg up as high as you can so that your left toes and right fingers touch.
- Alternate limbs for a total of 12 reps.
More Aggressive Strategies
To be fair, though, these non-invasive techniques won’t always get the job done. Sometimes, you just have to be a little more aggressive. For these persistent knots, self-myofascial release (SMR) will be necessary.
More typically and less technically called foam rolling, SMR essentially amounts to self-massive. Whether you’re using a cylinder of specially-crafted foam or a humble lacrosse ball, the idea is to apply moderate amounts of pressure to trigger points and force your muscles to let go of that tension. While SMR can – and should – be used on just about every working muscle, how can you focus this technique on hip problems?
As mentioned, the majority of the issues are going to come from your thighs and butt. So, start there. Placing as much of your weight as you can on the roller, run the foam up and down your quads and hamstrings. Stop at any particularly sensitive areas and focus your weight there for 3 to 5 seconds. Heads-up: this will hurt.
Apply the same basic technique to your inner and outer thighs, as well as your glutes. In some spots – or for particularly tough knots – you may need to use a hard plastic ball instead of the standard foam roller.
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