Additionally, insufficient hip strength has been linked to a host of other running injuries, though less definitively.3
Our topic today again looks at hip strength, but in a slightly different light: Which exercises are the best for strengthening the hip muscles?
There are a wide variety of hip exercises to choose from, ranging from simple ones, like leg lifts, to complicated side-stepping and squatting variations.
The research on hip strengthening exercises
An illuminating study just published this month by David Selkowitz, George Beneck and Christopher Powers looked at the relative contributions of three muscles — the gluteus medius, the gluteus maximus, and the tensor fascia lata (TFL) — to hip motion in 11 hip strength exercises.4
These three muscles are of interest because they have distinct and significant roles.
The gluteus medius is the main abductor and external rotator of the hip.
The gluteus maximus extends the hip and assists with abduction and external rotation.
The TFL is an abductor of the hip, but because of its positioning, it can also contribute to internal rotation
Furthermore, according to John Fairclough and colleagues in the UK, a tense TFL, because it connects directly to the knee’s lateral side via the iliotibial band, may increase knee strain that could develop into or exacerbate injury.5
Therefore, the ideal hip strength exercises are those that maximize the recruitment of the gluteus medius and maximus, while minimizing the recruitment of the TFL.
These were the characteristics whereby Selkowitz, Beneck, and Powers evaluated the 11 different hip exercises.
Using electromyography or EMG, a technique that measures the electrical impulses sent to the muscles, the researchers monitored the muscle activation levels in 20 healthy subjects during the exercises.
To quantify the relative contribution of the glutes and TFL, the researchers calculated the ratio of glute to TFL activation as measured by EMG.
The results showed significant differences in the glute-to-TFL activation ratio among the eleven exercises.
For injury treatment and prevention, the best hip strength exercises were clamshells, sidesteps, single-leg glute bridges, and two variants (bent knee and extending knee) of quadruped hip extensions.
These five exercises displayed a statistically significant difference in EMG signals in both gluteal muscles when compared to the TFL.
Comparatively, the side-laying leg lift, “hip hike” off a step, squats, and lunges did relatively worse. That doesn’t mean these exercises should be eliminated from your routine. They are still valuable and help develop overall hip strength. However, if you’re suffering from excessively weak hips, these five exercises should be your primary focus.
Unfortunately, the study did have some drawbacks. The clamshell and sidestep exercises, which both used an elastic theraband for resistance, might have scored artificially well because of the extra resistance provided by the band. And simply needing a special piece of equipment to do an exercise could be a drawback to some runners.
Additionally, the authors mentioned that muscle activation patterns could be altered in injured runners, necessitating different exercises. That’s a topic that would require another study to investigate.
Nevertheless, the work by Selkowitz, Beneck, and Powers provides a very timely insight into the best hip strength exercises for runners.
A routine based around clamshell exercises using a theraband, side-steps, single-leg glute bridges, and quadruped hip extensions is a very good place to start, either if you have knee or hip injuries currently or would like to prevent developing them in the future.
If you need help developing and implementing a full strength training routine to decrease injury and improve performance, check out our strength training for runners program. Specific prescriptions for every race distance, 18 progressive routines, injury prevention and much more. Click Here to Get Yours Now!
1. Cichanowski, H. R.; Schmitt, J. S.; Johnson, R. J.; Niemuth, P. E., Hip Strength in Collegiate Female Athletes with Patellofemoral Pain. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 2007, 39 (8), 1227-1232.
2. Fredericson, M.; Cookingham, C. L.; Chaudhari, A. M.; Dowdell, B. C.; Oestreicher, N.; Sahrmann, S. A., Hip Abductor Weakness in Distance Runners with Iliotibial Band Syndrome. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 2000, (10), 169-175.
3. Niemuth, P. E.; Johnson, R. J.; Myers, M. J.; Thieman, T. J., Hip Muscle Weakness and Overuse Injuries in Recreational Runners. Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine 2005, (15), 14-21.
4. Selkowitz, D. M., Which Exercises Target the Gluteal Muscles While Minimizing Activation of the Tensor Fascia Lata? Electromyographic Assessment Using Fine-Wire Electrodes. Journal of Orthopaedic and Sports Physical Therapy 2012.
5. Fairclough, J.; Hayashi, K.; Toumi, H.; Lyons, K.; Bydder, G.; Phillips, N.; Best, T. M.; Benjamin, M., Is iliotibial band syndrome really a friction syndrome? Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport 2007, 10 (2), 74-76.