It’s All in the Hips (and Pelvis) Part 1: Hip Flexors

The April issue of Running Times include an article entitled “It’s All in the Hips”, which I felt contained useful information for runners at all levels, on improving running performance, and factors which can negatively affect running performance and potentially increase injury risk. The hips and the pelvis play very important roles in running, in fact I refer to the hips as the steering wheel to help us run effectively. Originally I planned to hilite and elaborate upon the important points of this article in one post. However, I soon realized this would result in a post that was much too long! So I will be sending out multiple posts hiliting the important points and elaborating upon these.

In this article, elite running coach Bobby McGee, who I’ve had the privilege of meeting and who has helped me as a runner and coach, states that the first issue that should be addressed to improve running performance is tight hip flexors. In fact, approximately 85% of runners have tightness in the hip flexors. Therefore this article will focus on the importance of hip flexors, what causes tight hip flexors, and what can be done to address this.

What are the hip flexors and what is their function during running?

• Muscles located on the front (anterior) and inside (medial) of the hip

• Includes the rectus femoris, iliopsoas, hip adductors (longus, brevis, and magnus), tensor fascia latae (TFL)

• Allow us to bend at the hips for such activities as sitting

• During running allow us to, both accelerate our thigh forward, or decelerate the thigh as it moves backward

What causes tight hip flexors?

•The primary cause is overuse of the hip flexors because they are constantly being contracted and shortened while we sit for hours at work, while driving, and during leisure time

• In addition, while sitting the glutes become deactivated and weakened, this will be discussed further in my next article

What are the potential issues related to tight hip flexors?

• Ideally the pelvis should be properly aligned (think of the pelvis as a cup of water, or your drink of choice, which we don’t want to spill by the pelvis tipping too far forward or back), which allows the hips to be more stacked under the torso. This allows you to increase power as your leg drive pushes your body forward (hip extension), rather than twisting your hips forward, arching your back and losing energy in the torqueing. Tight hip flexors will cause the pelvis to “spill forward” and reduce or inhibit the amount of hip extension.

• Low back pain, strains in the hamstring, quadriceps, and groin

• Knee issues such as patellar tendinopathy, patellar femoral syndrome

• IT band tendonitis

What can I do if I have tight hip flexors?

• There are several muscles that flex the hips and these should be foam rolled and stretched

• Ideally, foam roll hip flexors 4-6 days per week

• General guidelines for foam rolling:

• Roll on tight, overused muscles until a tender/sore spot is found

• Apply pressure to tender/sore spots and hold for 30 seconds

• Foam rolling exercises:

Rectus Femoris:

http://www.menshealth.co.uk/cm/menshealthuk/images/Lw/quadriceps.jpg

TFL:

http://stoneathleticmedicine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/TFL-Foam-Roll.jpg Hip adductors: http://icraved.files.wordpress.com/2012/10/foam-roll-adductor.jpg

• After foam rolling, stretch the hip flexor muscles. Hold each stretch for at least 20-30 seconds, perform 1-3 sets of each stretch.

• Hip flexor stretch:

– Kneel in the right knee, with the left knee bent and directly over the left

ankle

– Lean forward, shifting your body weight on to your front leg. You should

feel a stretch in the right leg.

– Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 3 times

– Keep the back straight and abdominals tight. Do not allow the front knee to

pass over the toes.

– A folded towel can be placed under the knee on the floor for comfort

http://eplerhealth.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/hip-flexor-stretch.jpeg

• Yoga variation of hip flexor stretch – Kneeling lunge (Anjaneyasana) http://www.yogachuck.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Low-Lunge.jpeg

• Hip adductor or “butterfly” stretch: http://www.velogirls.com/resources/publications/stretching101/butterfly.jpg

• TFL Stretch:

http://hilloah.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/tfl-wall-stretch.jpeg

Please contact me with any questions or comments.

See you on the road or trail,

Brian

General Guidelines for an Off-Season Program to Help Transition into the 2014 Season

I have addressed some of the components of an off-season maintenance program in two previous articles, specifically cross-training and strength training. In this article I will tie together all of the important components of an off-season training program and provide guidelines for each. Although cross-training is one important way for us to maintain aerobic fitness during the off-season, we don’t want to neglect running, if possible, depending on the weather or access to a treadmill.

Guidelines for running during the off-season:

• Run 2-3 days per week

• Most runs should be at a comfortable, conversational pace

• Include a longer run once every 2-3 weeks, distance depends on goal events, fitness level, running history, any current injuries

• May progress to short intervals, such as strides, hill sprints, Fartlek (speedplay) runs

• Include proper warm-up (maybe include some basics for warm-ups)

Strength training guidelines:

• Should be done after any cross-training or running workout

• Focus on exercises to improve activation of abdominal, hip abductor, hip flexors and extensors (gluteus maximus and hamstrings) lower back, and scapular stabilizers

• Performed 2-3 days per week on non-consecutive days

• Use body weight resistance or low resistance

• Typically involve a progression, which can include adding an instability component, such as performing exercises on a pillow, or increasing the range of motion of the exercise

• Exercises are typically performed to fatigue and not a specific number of repetitions

• Rest period can be 30-60 seconds between exercises, or you can perform the exercises in a circuit, and just move from one exercise to the next with little or no rest

Cross-training guidelines:

• Performed 2-3 days per week

• I would recommend using a variety of cross-training modes to incorporate a variety of muscles

• Ideally, choose at least some cross-training modes, which incorporate motion in different planes than running, such as side-to-side or transverse plane motion, as opposed to forwards and backwards motion

• Intensity should be light to moderate, with incorporation of short intervals every 2-3 weeks with full recovery

Additional components:

• Foam rolling:

• Roll on tight, overused muscles until a tender/sore spot is found

• Apply pressure to tender/sore spots  and hold for 30 seconds

• Perform 5-7 days per week

• Stretching:

• Should include calf, hamstring, glutes, hip flexors, IT band, lower back, chest

• Hold stretches for 30-60 seconds

• Perform 1-4 repetitions for each stretch

• Perform after foam rolling, as the last component of a workout

If you don’t own or have access to a  foam roller I highly recommend getting access to a foam roller. Foam rolling can be beneficial in improving flexibility and reducing soreness in tight, overused muscles. An example of tight, overused muscles common to runners and triathletes are the hip flexor (thigh) muscles. To improve flexibility and lengthen these muscles roll on the hip flexors until you find the most tender/sore areas and apply pressure with the foam roller for 30 seconds (see picture below). If performed on a regular basis, this can result in increased range of motion when bringing the back foot up towards the glutes. This will increase the power with each stride, increasing speed.

http://www.menshealth.co.uk/cm/menshealthuk/images/Lw/quadriceps.jpg

Final note: A maintenance program should be designed to accomplish a few goals, which will help transition us into successfully building aerobic fitness for the next running season. The goals of a maintenance program are to maintain and start rebuilding endurance, and to address muscle imbalances and flexibility issues to improve running form (biomechanics), so that we are more efficient runners with less chance of developing running-related injuries, and possibly start incorporating some short intervals to improve running economy (similar to efficiency) and biomechanics.

Please contact me if you have any questions. I would love to hear from you!

See you on the road or trail.

Brian