When most people think of muscle strengthening for runners, they think first about the muscles in the legs — the quadriceps, the hamstrings, and even the calves.

While it is, of course, important for these muscle groups to be strong and mobile, it’s also important for runners to focus on their hip muscles. In fact, strengthening the hips can reduce a runner’s risk of injuring these other muscles.

When examining groups of runners who had experienced various leg and hip injuries throughout their careers, researchers found a connection between weak hip flexors (muscles on the front of the hips), weak abductors (muscles on the outside of the hips), and running injuries.

Read on to learn more about the importance of strong hips for runners, as well as for some tips on how you can strengthen yours.

Benefits of Strong Hips

Some of the specific benefits of strong hips for runners include:

Relieves Knee Pain

Many runners experience pain in the front of the knee. In many cases, this condition, which is frequently referred to as runner’s knee and/or patellofemoral syndrome, is caused by weak hip muscles.

After analyzing more than a dozen studies, researchers found that people who participated in a program that emphasized strength and mobility in the hip muscles had less patellofemoral pain compared to those whose programs focused primarily on strengthening the quadriceps.

This isn’t to say that strong quadriceps don’t matter, of course. But, if your program only involves quad exercises, you could be missing out.

Prevents IT Band Syndrome

Many runners also suffer from a condition known as iliotibial band (IT band) syndrome. This condition occurs when the IT band, the ligament that runs from the top of the outer hip to the top of the knee, becomes tight and inflamed and causes pain in the outer hip and outer knee.

By strengthening and improving the mobility of the hips, runners can prevent IT irritation and, in turn, minimize their pain.

Improves Performance

Finally, strong hips — especially hip flexors — also help improve overall running performance.

One study even found that runners who included hip flexor exercises in their routine on a regular basis were able to cut their run times by up to nine percent!

How to Strengthen Your Hips

To start strengthening your hip flexors and abductors today, be sure to incorporate these five exercises into your routine.

Prone Scorpion Stretch

This is a good warm-up exercise. Start by lying on your stomach with arms extended in a “T” shape.

Bend your left knee to bring your heel toward your hips. Then, rotate it across your midline until you touch the ground on your right side.

Slowly return to the beginning position, then repeat on the other side. Do 10-12 repetitions on each side.

Bird Dogs

This exercise is also great for the core and lower back. Start by kneeling on all fours, taking care to make sure hips, knees, shoulders, and wrists are all aligned. Keep your gaze neutral, looking straight down at the floor.

When you feel stable, slowly lift your right arm and left leg, extending the arm in front of you and the leg behind you. Hold for a second, then rotate your arm and leg so that they reach to opposite sides of the room.

Return to the first position, then lower everything back down and repeat on the other side. Do 10-12 repetitions per side.

Hip Lifts

Stand up straight on a step or small bench. Turn to the side so that your right leg can hang off the edge.

While keeping both legs straight, shift your weight into your left foot and drop the right side of the pelvis so that the right leg drops down a few inches.

Use your hip muscles to pull the right hip back up to a neutral position. Repeat 15-20 times before switching sides.

Single-Leg Bridge

Lie down on your back with the knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Once you’re comfortable, lift your left leg and extend it toward the ceiling. Then, press into the floor with your right foot to lift your hips off the ground.

Hold this position for a couple seconds, then lower yourself down with control. Do 10-12 repetitions before switching sides.

Final Thoughts

If you want to avoid injuries and improve your overall running performance, strong hips are a must. Perform these exercises consistently and you’ll start seeing improvements in no time.