6 Essential Hip Strengthening Exercises For Runners

6 Simple moves to add strength and power to your hips, the engine of your running power

The hips are one of the most important joints involved in running.

Even though consistently doing hip exercises can’t guarantee injury-free running, a well-rounded, consistent hip strengthening routine built into your training plan, as well as hip mobility exercises as part of a dynamic warm-up, can be a crucial part of injury prevention for runners.

In this guide to hip strengthening exercises for runners, we will discuss why strength training programs for runners should target the hips and the best hip exercises for runners to include in their programs.

A single leg glute bridge.

Why Should Runners Strengthen the Hip Muscles?

Before we look at why having strong hips and healthy hip mobility is important for reducing the risk of running injuries, I want to present this disclaimer that I am not a physical therapist.

If you have a hip injury, acute hip pain, or some sort of ongoing hip stability issue, it is important to work with a physical therapist to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

I am a certified personal trainer and running coach, so I am able to help runners improve hip stability, hip mobility, and hip strength with hip exercises for runners, but what follows should not be taken as medical advice or individualized hip rehab exercises.

The primary benefits of hip mobility and hip strengthening exercises for runners are to improve running performance and reduce the risk of running injuries.

Studies have found that a strength training plan with hip strengthening exercises can improve sprinting speed and agility.1Santos, B. D., Corrêa, L. A., Teixeira Santos, L., Filho, N. A. M., Lemos, T., & Nogueira, L. A. C. (2016). Combination of Hip Strengthening and Manipulative Therapy for the Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis: A Case Report. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine15(4), 310–313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.001

‌Additionally, evidence suggests that weaknesses and imbalances in the hip muscles increase the risk of hip injuries in runners.2Niemuth, P. E., Johnson, R. J., Myers, M. J., & Thieman, T. J. (2005). Hip Muscle Weakness and Overuse Injuries in Recreational Runners. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine15(1), 14–21. https://doi.org/10.1097/00042752-200501000-00004

A banded glute bridge.

Tight hips are those that lack range of motion and have poor mobility.

Runners often complain of tight hips, but because there isn’t one single cause of hip tightness in runners, it is really helpful to understand the different muscle groups and connective tissues that can contribute to poor hip mobility and a feeling of tight hips.

This can help you determine which muscle groups you need to stretch and which muscle groups you may need to strengthen because they are overstretched.

In addition, the connective tissues such as tendons and joint capsule structures may need self-myofascial release or other hip mobility movements in order to restore optimal range of motion.

In terms of the muscle groups controlling the hip—either in terms of providing hip stability or facilitating motions of the leg at the hip—you can have tight hip muscles, weak hip muscles, a combination of both, or difficulty with activation of the hip muscles.

Any or all of these hip muscle issues are common in distance runners, and can lead to muscle imbalances, a posterior pelvic tilt or anterior pelvic tilt, and a risk of running injuries.3Tateiwa, T., Ishida, T., Kusakabe, T., Masaoka, T., Endo, K., Shishido, T., Takahashi, Y., & Yamamoto, K. (2023). Hip disorders and spinopelvic alignment: a current literature review. Journal of Joint Surgery and Research1(1), 62–69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jjoisr.2023.01.002

‌In fact, because the lower body joints operate in a kinetic chain, runners who don’t have strong hips are at risk for a host of injuries in the legs down to the feet and up the lower back.

These can include iliotibial band syndrome, runner’s knee,4Mellinger, S., & Neurohr, G. A. (2019). Evidence based treatment options for common knee injuries in runners. Annals of Translational Medicine7(S7), S249–S249. https://doi.org/10.21037/atm.2019.04.08 other types of knee pain, shin splints,5Article Detail. (n.d.). International Journal of Advanced Research. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from https://www.journalijar.com/article/25320/hip-muscles-torque-in-runners-with-medial-tibial-stress-syndrome/ lower back pain, glute pain, and plantar fasciitis.6Santos, B. D., Corrêa, L. A., Teixeira Santos, L., Filho, N. A. M., Lemos, T., & Nogueira, L. A. C. (2016). Combination of Hip Strengthening and Manipulative Therapy for the Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis: A Case Report. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine15(4), 310–313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.001

A pistol squat.

The muscle groups controlling the hip joint and providing pelvic and hip stability include the following:

Hip flexors, hamstrings, glutes, iliotibial band (IT band), low back muscles, iliopsoas, quadriceps, adductors, and smaller hip muscles such as the piriformis, gluteus medius, gluteus minimus, obturator muscles, tensor fascia latae, deep core muscles, pelvic floor muscles, and gemellus muscles.

When there is tightness in one muscle group and weakness in the opposing muscle group, or even standalone weakness in any of the muscle groups responsible for providing hip stability, you can experience:

  • Hip pain while running
  • A higher risk of running injuries to the hips and knees
  • Excessive strain on the low back
  • Poor running mechanics
  • Poor running economy

For example, if your glutes are weak, your hamstrings have to compensate and do more than their fair share of the workload hip extension.

This can lead to hamstring tendonitis and hamstring tendonosis as well as low back pain while running.

Weak hip abductors, such as weak gluteus medius muscles, can allow your knees to cave-in while you are running and will cause excessive dropping of your pelvis during the single leg stance phase of running.

Studies suggest7Foch, E., Brindle, R. A., & Pohl, M. B. (2023). Lower extremity kinematics during running and hip abductor strength in iliotibial band syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Gait & Posture101, 73–81. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gaitpost.2023.02.001 that runners with weak hip abductors are at an increased risk of running injuries such as runner’s knee ant IT band syndrome.8Santos, T. R. T., Oliveira, B. A., Ocarino, J. M., Holt, K. G., & Fonseca, S. T. (2015). Effectiveness of hip muscle strengthening in patellofemoral pain syndrome patients: a systematic review. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy19(3), 167–176. https://doi.org/10.1590/bjpt-rbf.2014.0089

‌While weak hips leave you prone to running injuries, tight hips can also compromise your running form and increase the risk of certain injuries. 

Tight hip flexors can alter your optimal pelvic alignment, and having tight hip muscles on one leg can cause imbalances in the workload between your left leg and right leg.

This can cause overuse injuries in the overworked side.

A clamshell exercise.

What Are The Best Hip Strengthening Exercises For Runners?

The best hip stability exercises help ensure that your hips are able to provide a stable foundation upon which your upper body and lower body can move or balance, whether performing dynamic exercises or trying to hold static postures in a 360-degree fashion.

Here are some of the best hip strengthening exercises for runners:

#1: Single-Leg Bridges

Glute bridges are a beginner-friendly exercise for increasing strength in the hip muscles. The single-leg bridge helps replicate the hip stability needed for running.

  1. Lie on your back with your knees bent, one foot flat on the floor and one up in the air.
  2. Squeeze your glutes to lift your hips up all the way until they are in line with your body from your knees to your head.
  3. Hold and squeeze for one breath then slowly lower.
  4. Repeat 15 times and then switch sides.

#2: Monster Walks

Monster walks are great dynamic warm-up hip mobility exercise that also strengthens the glutes and quads.

Here are the steps for this dynamic stretching move:

  1. Place a small loop resistance band around your ankles.
  2. Get into a good squat position with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart, core engaged, chest up, shoulders down, and knees bent to roughly a 90-degree angle. 
  3. Place your hands on your hips. This is the starting position.
  4. Staying down in your squat position, step your right foot as far outwards and forwards as possible, reaching for 2:00 on a clock.
  5. Then, do the same with the left foot, aiming forward and to the left (towards 10:00).
  6. Keep tension on the band at all times and stay in your squat.
  7. Take 20-30 steps per leg.

#3: Side Plank With Hip Abduction

This advanced side plank exercise also strengthens the hip abductors while challenging your isometric core strength and hip stability.

Here are the steps:

  1. Once you are in a side plank as the starting position, lift your top leg up towards the ceiling, keeping your hips in line with your body and keeping both legs straight.
  2. Think about squeezing your obliques and engaging your entire core to prevent sinking into the supporting shoulder or arm. Your entire body from your head to the foot on the supporting leg should be in a straight line.
  3. Lift and lower the top leg 12 times.
  4. Switch sides.

#4: Clam Shells 

This is one of the best gluteus medius exercises because it really isolates the muscle.

  1. Place a resistance loop band on your thighs just above your knees.
  2. Lie on your left side with your knees stacked on top of one another and your knees bent 90 degrees. Prop your head up with your left hand so that you feel comfortable.
  3. Squeeze your heels together and lift your feet so that they’re hovering about 3-4 inches off the floor. Your feet should remain fixed in this position as if glued in space throughout the duration of the exercise.
  4. Lift your right knee (the top one) towards the ceiling against the resistance of the band, rotating your hip to open your groin. Remember to keep your feet together and off the ground.
  5. Complete 10-15 reps, and then switch sides.

#5: Single-Leg Squats 

This is a great functional hip strengthening exercise for runners because it builds unilateral strength and stability in the quads, gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and smaller hip muscles.

Here are the steps:

  1. Stand upright with your feet shoulder-width apart. 
  2. Lift your left foot off the ground so that you are only standing on your right foot with your core engaged. Hold onto a dumbbell with your arms extended in front of you at chest height.
  3. Keeping your hips facing forwards and stacked over your knees, bend the knee to 90 degrees on your supporting leg.
  4. Slowly press back up to standing.
  5. Complete 6-8 slow reps and then switch to stand on your left foot.

#6: Hip Thrusts

Studies suggest that the hip thrust is one of the best exercises for building muscle and increasing strength in the gluteus maximus and improving strength for both hip flexion and hip extension.9Kennedy, D., Casebolt, J. B., Farren, G. L., Fiaud, V., Bartlett, M., & Strong, L. (2022). Electromyographic differences of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, biceps femoris, and vastus lateralis between the barbell hip thrust and barbell glute bridge. Sports Biomechanics, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/14763141.2022.2074875

Here is how to do a hip thrust:

  1. Rest your shoulder blades and upper back on the long side of a weight bench with your feet flat on the floor hip-width apart and knees bent to 90 degrees. 
  2. Place a barbell along the crease of your hips. You can use a towel underneath for comfort.
  3. Activate your glutes and press through your heels to raise your hips up to tabletop position. Your thighs should be parallel to the ground at the top of the rep. Your shins should be vertical.
  4. Pause for 2-3 seconds at the top of the movement and contract your glutes.
  5. Slowly lower your butt back down, allowing your knees to travel naturally back inward towards your body.

For healthy, strong hips, try to perform your hip strengthening routine 2-3 days per week.

For a glute workout, check out our next guide:

References

  • 1
    Santos, B. D., Corrêa, L. A., Teixeira Santos, L., Filho, N. A. M., Lemos, T., & Nogueira, L. A. C. (2016). Combination of Hip Strengthening and Manipulative Therapy for the Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis: A Case Report. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine15(4), 310–313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.001
  • 2
    Niemuth, P. E., Johnson, R. J., Myers, M. J., & Thieman, T. J. (2005). Hip Muscle Weakness and Overuse Injuries in Recreational Runners. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine15(1), 14–21. https://doi.org/10.1097/00042752-200501000-00004
  • 3
    Tateiwa, T., Ishida, T., Kusakabe, T., Masaoka, T., Endo, K., Shishido, T., Takahashi, Y., & Yamamoto, K. (2023). Hip disorders and spinopelvic alignment: a current literature review. Journal of Joint Surgery and Research1(1), 62–69. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jjoisr.2023.01.002
  • 4
    Mellinger, S., & Neurohr, G. A. (2019). Evidence based treatment options for common knee injuries in runners. Annals of Translational Medicine7(S7), S249–S249. https://doi.org/10.21037/atm.2019.04.08
  • 5
    Article Detail. (n.d.). International Journal of Advanced Research. Retrieved February 13, 2024, from https://www.journalijar.com/article/25320/hip-muscles-torque-in-runners-with-medial-tibial-stress-syndrome/
  • 6
    Santos, B. D., Corrêa, L. A., Teixeira Santos, L., Filho, N. A. M., Lemos, T., & Nogueira, L. A. C. (2016). Combination of Hip Strengthening and Manipulative Therapy for the Treatment of Plantar Fasciitis: A Case Report. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine15(4), 310–313. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcm.2016.08.001
  • 7
    Foch, E., Brindle, R. A., & Pohl, M. B. (2023). Lower extremity kinematics during running and hip abductor strength in iliotibial band syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Gait & Posture101, 73–81. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gaitpost.2023.02.001
  • 8
    Santos, T. R. T., Oliveira, B. A., Ocarino, J. M., Holt, K. G., & Fonseca, S. T. (2015). Effectiveness of hip muscle strengthening in patellofemoral pain syndrome patients: a systematic review. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy19(3), 167–176. https://doi.org/10.1590/bjpt-rbf.2014.0089
  • 9
    Kennedy, D., Casebolt, J. B., Farren, G. L., Fiaud, V., Bartlett, M., & Strong, L. (2022). Electromyographic differences of the gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, biceps femoris, and vastus lateralis between the barbell hip thrust and barbell glute bridge. Sports Biomechanics, 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/14763141.2022.2074875
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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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