In the last post we discussed the mechanics of foot strike and the dangers of over-striding. We ended with hip flexor stretching, which the majority of runners need to perform. Gaining hip extension range of motion is a slow process, but you don’t need to wait until you have full motion before starting strengthening of the glutes. Tight hip flexors can inhibit the glutes, but stronger glutes can help loosen the hip flexors. They go hand in hand and are equally important.
I like to give my patients progressions of exercises for each muscle group they need to work, mastering an easy exercise before moving to a more difficult one. In our Running Strong class, all participants strengthen every running related muscle group, progressing exercises weekly. For my gait analysis patients, we pick progressions to address their particular weaknesses and start them with the most challenging exercise that they can do correctly. We use bridging progressions to work on hip extension, engaging the glute max while maintaining core control with a neutral spine. Here is a sampling of our typical bridging progressions with the typical number of repetitions, three sets of each:
Double leg bridge: 10 – 20 reps
The cues we teach with this exercise are to brace the core in a neutral spine position, and squeeze the glutes together to better activate them before driving down through the heels to lift the pelvis into the air. Each of these exercises requires more core stability when the arms are kept up.
Bridge marching: 10 – 20 reps
This is a bit harder as it requires single leg control. Bridge up with both legs and once in the up position, you pick one foot up slightly and lower it gently, then the other one. That’s one rep. Keep alternating legs until you do all the reps or you can’t maintain good form. The same cues apply, but we also need to focus on keeping the pelvis level and not letting it roll side to side as you switch legs.
Single leg bridge: 10 – 15 reps
All cues above still apply. You want the pelvis as level as possible in the up position. Do all reps on one leg before switching to the other one. The starting position is the same as double leg bridge, but with one leg out straight, resting on the ground. The finish position is below.
Unfortunately we didn’t take a pic of this for some reason, but basically the start is the same as the double leg bridge, but with one leg out straight, resting on the floor. The straight leg will stay in line with the body as you drive up with the other hip. The picture below shows a left single leg bridge in the top position. If I were coaching myself, I’d recommend driving the left hip just a little more to eliminate the flexion/sagging at the waist.
For the sake of space, we will wrap up this post here. In the next post we’ll continue discussing hip extension and go over some exercises to improve gluteus maximus strength. We will also discuss other forces that act on the body during running, as well as ways to help control those forces. In the meantime, stretch those hip flexors and start working on your cadence!
Thank you for reading and Happy Running!
Kasey Hill, M.D.