Want to keep running, but pain, injuries or mobility limitations holding you back? These hip stretches for runners will help get you back out there and back to racking up the miles in no time.
Running can have a meditative quality. When you get in the zone, it feels like you could just go forever.
You hit your stride, and all you feel is your breath, the pound in your chest, and your feet hitting the ground. Everything else seems to just melt away.
That is, until, on one random swing of your leg forward, your hip suddenly tightens up.
You were so in the rhythm that the sudden tightening almost makes you fall over.
You grimace and grind your teeth as you slow to a halt and massage the cramp in your hip.
So much for a relaxing run.
This sensation and others like it are par for the course for runners.
Running, while celebrated for its cardiovascular and endurance benefits, is notorious for causing tightness and injuries.
Studies have shown that anywhere from 20% to 80% of runners suffer lower body injuries .
But, that doesn’t mean we should avoid it.
It means we need to be smarter about training our body for running, which is the goal of my 5-part stretching routine for runners.
“Stretches” vs. Techniques
Before we get into the 5 best hip stretches that every runner should do, I have a quick CONFESSION to make…
While I’ve used the term “stretches” in the title, you’re not going to find your typical static hip, knee and calf stretches here.
The reason why I’ve used the term stretches is because I know that most people use this term for the search engines and using it in the title will help the article get found by good people like you.
So if you’re looking for the common static stretches that teachers teach their grade 5 students in gym class, you won’t find them here.
Sorry to disappoint.
What you will find here would be better described as exercises, techniques or drills…
… innovative techniques to improve your strength and flexibility, ultimately building not just your range of motion but your range of CONTROL, which is your ability to actively get in and out of the range you have.
So if you can find it in your heart to forgive me for the little “bait-and-switch” for the sake of the search engines, continue on to discover techniques that will help you not just maintain your current level of flexibility but INCREASE it.
Typical static stretches don’t build strength and the only way to improve your mobility is to build strength in new ranges of motion, so let’s go ahead and do that.
But first, we’ve got to understand why running makes you tight so that we can properly improve our range of control.
What Muscles Do We Use to Run?
There are a lot of muscles in action when you run, although the range of motion they are used in is limited.We can think of running as having two phases – the “stance phase” in the leg that’s on the ground and the “swing phase” in the leg that’s off the earth .
Your gluteus medius and gluteus maximus of your rear, your tensor fasciae latae along the outside of your upper leg, and your adductor magnus on the inside of your upper leg are involved in both phases – swinging over the earth and pressing off it.
Your quadriceps and hamstrings are also involved throughout the process. Your iliopsoas, which starts at the spine and crosses the hip, helps to swing the leg forward.
In your lower leg, your gastrocnemius, or calf muscle, is active throughout, as is the tibialis anterior, which runs along your shin bone.
Why Do Running & Tightness Go Hand in Hand?
Although running is a long-held, fundamental exercise for humans, it also has some fundamental inherent problems.
This is because unless you’re sprinting at full speed, running only recruits your muscles, particularly those in your hips, in a very limited range.
Just think about it…
Picture yourself going on a jog, running like you normally would, and how your muscles and limbs are moving.
Now imagine yourself in a full-on sprint.
Your legs and arms are swinging fully, your hips are using a more complete range of motion, and it’s almost as if you’re stretching in this range as you run.
We can’t sprint forever, so we tend to run at a more moderate pace, using smaller steps and restrained movements.
While this is great for endurance, it’s not so great for range of motion or hip mobility.
This is because your body is both smart and lazy.
It adapts to the demands you place upon it and minimizes the energy it needs to expend to do so.
That means that if you’re an avid runner, you’ll lose strength in ranges outside of those required when running because they’re not being used.
The Mileage Factor
It’s not just that running requires a very limited range that makes it so good at tightening people up.
It’s this combined with the fact that runners tend to put in so many miles. A lot of miles requires a whole lot of steps, i.e., a whole lot of repetitive movements in a small, limited range.
For example, it can take anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 steps to run a mile.
This is like doing 1,000 to 2,000 reps of an exercise that’s programming your neuromuscular system to work only in this limited range.
And that’s only for one mile.
That means every 5-mile run equates to 5,000 to 10,000 reps.
THIS is why running is particularly powerful at causing tightness and muscular strain.
And this is why you need to be incorporating hip stretches for runners and other techniques that will specifically target these mobility issues.
The ABC’s of Running
Before we get into the best hip stretches for runners, there are a few other factors you should consider.
To minimize running’s negative effect on not just hip mobility but also posture – remember the Precision Movement ABC’s:
Run with good lower body alignment and upper body posture.
Imagine a column under your head that runs straight down to the ground – use this image to help you stay tall, upright, and stable in the core, glutes, and hips when running .
Keep your eyes looking straight toward the horizon when possible, and avoid staring down at the ground.
Lean slightly forward, but do so through your chest – not by bending at your waist.
Breathe as naturally and rhythmically as possible – not like a panting dog.
And, if you can, focus on breathing from the stomach – not the chest .
Diaphragmatic breathing can help prevent fatigue. And when we are fatigued, we’re more likely to misstep and sustain injuries.
Research has even found that strained breathing can be tied to leg weakness  – breathing properly is that important. So make sure those breaths are slow, steady, deep, and from the belly.
Maintaining control of these factors while running is crucial.
Stop before you lose control of A and B, otherwise you’re asking for foot, ankle, knee, and/or hip pain due to repetitive stress.
The 5 Hip Stretches for Runners
1) Hip Joint Capsule Mobilization:
- Set up a band low to the ground and step into it with your left foot
- Bring the band high up on your thigh as you come down into quadruped position facing away from the band
- Crawl forward until you feel slight tension on the band
Part 1: External Rotation
- Start with the left hip in external rotation and the left knee just in front of the right
- As you externally rotate, let the left foot point over toward the right leg
- From here, start to take 10 slow circles with your hips
- Swap directions and do 10 circles in the other direction
- Release and step back to rest
Part 2: Neutral Hip
- Bring your left knee forward again, this time keeping hip neutral
- From here complete 10 circles in each direction
- Release and step back to rest
Part 3: Internal Rotation
- Bring your left knee forward again, this time internally rotating the hip and letting the left foot point away from the midline
- Complete 10 circles in each direction
2) BJJ Quad x 8 per:
- Take a seated position on the ground leaning to one side, say your left, so that your weight is resting primarily on your left butt cheek
- Keep your right leg bent up at a 90° angle with the foot flat on the floor
- As you’re leaning to your left, the lateral side of your left leg should be touching the ground
- Keep your left hand on the ground a little bit behind your hip
- Bridge your hips up by driving into your left hand and your right foot, your left leg should now be slightly off the ground
- Push yourself forward now so that your right knee travels past your foot and touches the ground. You should be able to feel a good stretch in your quads and hips in this position.
- To take the stretch a little further, squeeze your right glute to push the hip further into extension
- Return back to the starting position and repeat on the other side
- Do this for 6 to 10 reps per side and make sure you’re doing it with a nice flow and nothing too jerky
3) Hip Hinge with TKE x 10
- Start standing with straight legs
- Hinge at your hips and reach down to grab your leg just below the patella
- Internally rotate your legs while contracting your quadriceps to straighten the legs – this will lead to “terminal knee extension” or TKE
- Keep squeezing your legs for 5 seconds – making sure to stay internally rotated so that your adductor muscles along the inside of your thigh are activated
- Release and come back up to standing with control
- Repeat for 5 to 10 reps
4) Butterfly Reaches x 6 per
- Sit in butterfly position, with knees bent and the bottoms of your feet together
- Internally rotate your left femur – first pointing your knee up towards the ceiling
- Lean over to your right to balance as you lift the left foot and continue to rotate the femur
- Stretch the left foot away from you, hovering the foot off the ground as you do
- Hold for a second or two, then bring the foot back into the butterfly position with control
- Repeat on the other side
5) DCR Rec Fem Stretch x 2 cycles per:
- Take a half kneeling lunge position on the ground with your rear foot resting on a stability ball or on a wall behind you
- Make sure you maintain a natural tall posture through the stretch
- Kick your foot into the wall/ball to activate the quadriceps and hold for a count of 5 seconds
- Relax the quad now and push your hips back to the wall by driving into your lead foot to passively lengthen the quad. Hold for 5 seconds
- Now, come forward again and work to pull your heel to your butt by flexing your hamstring. Hold this contraction for 5 seconds
- Relax the hamstring now and go back to your passive stretch for another 5 seconds
- Perform this cycle 2 times per side
Give these 5 hip stretches for runners a go and see what happens.
You’ll increase not just your range of motion, but your range of control in a powerful way.
Your hips will open up, your body will feel less tight, and you’ll be able to pound the pavement with less pain.