If you’re a long-time runner, you’re most likely aware of the importance of strengthening hip muscles for added stability and performance during running. But if you have just started exploring the world of running and the work of muscles behind the process, you’ll want to know that hips (next to quads, core muscles, and glutes) play an essential role in helping you run better and faster.
This article shares the best hip-strengthening exercises for runners regardless of your fitness level. Wherever you are at the moment, there’s always room to add power and stability, and the exercises in this article will help you do just that.
- Why Hip-Strengthening Exercises Are Important for Runners
- How Hip-Strengthening Works
- The Right Way to Target Hip Muscles
- Hip Strengthening Exercises for Runners
- Important Note for Runners
- Time to Get Those Hips in Shape
Why Hip-Strengthening Exercises Are Important for Runners
The answer to this question is the same as for any other muscle: to provide more strength, endurance, flexibility, and athletic performance. Working on these four elements will minimize injury risk and improve your performance big-time.
However, there’s a special reason why you should target hip muscles if you’re a runner. Hip extension motion is one of the most essential parts of being able to run, and you may not have been aware of it before.
If you’re new to the term, hip extension is the act of driving one’s leg backward after the leg touches the ground. This motion is performed with the help of hip muscles, hamstrings, and glutes. It’s imperative to work on strengthening hip extension muscles if you want to boost your running speed and time. It’s safe to say that for a robust hip extension, you have to get stronger hips and core muscles.
A Clinical Journal of Sports Medicine study showed that having weak hip muscles can lead to more frequent injuries in recreational runners with imbalanced muscle strength.
How Hip-Strengthening Works
Strengthening hips is hard without strengthening glutes as well. These two muscle groups are interconnected, so most exercises for one group will also be effective for the other. To make your hips stronger, you need to understand how both of these muscle groups work.
The glute itself is made out of three muscles called gluteus maximus, gluteus medius, and gluteus minimus. Together, these three parts make up the body’s largest muscle. This includes the musculature that starts from the top of the hamstrings and finishes in the lower back.
The gluteus medius lays on the side of the leg very close to the hip, and it’s often the first muscle you want to work on to strengthen both the hips and the glutes. The gluteus medius takes the demand of the hips and adds strength to your stride. The glute muscle also helps stabilize the pelvis, which prevents hip drops.
The Right Way to Target Hip Muscles
Recreational runners often make the mistake of focusing on a single muscle group in their efforts to achieve better results. However, this is ineffective. If you want more power and stability when running, work on your hip muscles just as much as you do on any other group (glutes, core, etc.). This way, all muscles will be worked out equally to provide maximum impact.
To help you make the most out of your hip extension workout, we included a variety of exercises that will work your hips through different motion plans.
Also, you can perform most of the exercises with resistance or weights if you’d like to add difficulty. Suggested props include ankle weights or bands. If you’re a beginner, it’s best to start without resistance until you become more comfortable with the movement.
Hip Strengthening Exercises for Runners
1. Side Leg Lift
Side leg lifting includes pushing away, or adducting, the leg from your midline. It’s a great activity to strengthen your outer thighs and hip adductors (including gluteus medius and gluteus minimus).
You can perform this exercise in two variations, by standing or lying down.
Before we dive into steps on how to do each, here are some general tips you should follow when doing this exercise.
Don’t Lock the Knees
A common misconception about side leg lifts is that you should keep your knees completely straight. By doing so, you prevent your leg from moving naturally and completing the exercise optimally.
Keep the Hips Aligned
This one is especially important when you do the lying variation, but it goes for both versions: always keep your top hip in line with the one on the floor. And when you’re standing, try not to have your hips shift back and forth unilaterally.
Don’t Bend Your Back
Ideally, you want your neck, lower back, and core to make a straight line when you do this exercise. You can keep your knees, back, and neck fairly flexible, but don’t bend them. Doing so may take the strain off your hips, meaning you’ll end up with a less intense workout. Also, it could cause discomfort in your body.
Refrain From Raising the Leg Too High
As counterintuitive as it sounds, don’t keep your leg too high when doing side leg lifts. Overextension can cause injuries and strains in hip flexors and the surrounding muscles.
How to Do Standing Side Leg Lifts
- Stand in an open space with enough room for you to lift your leg to the side.
- Keep one foot flat on the floor and lift the other leg to the side. Aim for the clock hand movement that comes from the hips.
- Keep the leg to the side for two seconds, then lower it down without touching the floor.
- Repeat the motion 15 times. Change legs. Aim for three sets of 15 for each leg as a beginner.
How to Do Lying Side Leg Lifts
- Find a flat surface and lie down on your side (left or right). You can use a mat for greater comfort.
- Lift the leg that’s further from the ground as high as you can (but not so much as to overstrain it). Move your leg as if it was a hand of a clock while your hips are the rotation point. Hold the leg in the upright position for two seconds.
- Lower the leg without letting it touch the other leg. Keep a 2-inch distance between the two legs.
Repeat the motion 15 times and aim for three sets. Change legs after each set.
2. The Glute Bridge
The glute bridge is a challenging, versatile, and effective exercise for runners of all levels. The main target of the workout is the posterior chain and the back of the legs, including the hamstrings and glutes. If your main goal is to gain strength or trim up, this is the must-do exercise.
The great news is that doing the glute bridge doesn’t require any equipment (although you can place a resistance band above your knees for more strength) and takes very little space. You don’t even have to use a mat if you don’t have one.
If you have any type of knee or hip discomfort, you’ll find this an ideal exercise.
How to Do the Glute Bridge
- Find a flat surface and lie flat on your back.
- Raise the knees by keeping the feet on the ground and around 10 inches away from your bottom.
- Stabilize yourself by keeping your hands slightly to the side.
- Use both feet to raise the hips off the ground until bringing the body and quads in a straight line. Only your feet and shoulder blades should keep contact with the floor.
- Hold in that position for two seconds, then lower your body down.
Do 15 repetitions for three sets.
Additionally, you can perform this exercise by using one leg at a time. To do so, in Step 4, raise one leg up (at a 90-degree angle from the knee) and use the foot that’s on the ground to raise your hips. You can do 15 repetitions with each leg up.
3. Donkey Kicks
Donkey kicks are a great exercise to boost your hamstrings, hips, and glutes together. It’s an all-in-one workout that includes the entire muscle chain evenly. By doing this exercise regularly, you’ll improve your posture and keep hip and spine injuries at bay. This is especially beneficial for runners with sedentary jobs.
Ideally, you should do donkey kicks five times per week. You can add resistance for this exercise by adding ankle weights or a resistance band around the lifted foot.
How to Do Donkey Kicks
Get on your hands and knees on a flat surface and make sure to keep your back straight. Your hands should be stacked directly under your shoulders. The knees should be below the hips.
- Start by picking one leg up and keeping it bent at 90 degrees throughout the movement. Lift the leg off the ground by keeping your body still.
- Kick the chosen leg towards the sky behind you while keeping it at a 90-degree angle. You can straighten the leg as you raise it up as a variation.
- Lower the leg without letting it touch the ground.
Repeat the exercise 15 times. Aim for three sets.
If you want to boost the effect on the hips, you can perform a slight variation of the donkey kicks explained above. Instead of raising your leg up behind you in step 3, raise it to the side.
Squats are an excellent general hip-strengthening activity that target the integrity of your gluteus muscles (maximus, medius, and minimus). Squats also work the core, mobilize knees, ankles, and hips, and add strength to your hamstrings and quads. Squats are also great because you can do them just about anywhere, and they don’t require any special equipment.
How to Do Squats
Stand straight and separate your feet. Make sure your feet are in line with your hips and shoulders. The spine is neutral, chest up, and shoulders back. The heels should be firmly planted on the ground throughout the exercise.
- Hold the hands straight or clasp them in front of the chest for added balance.
- Go up and down as if you were about to sit on a chair. As you sit back, lead with your bottom.
- Lower the body toward the ground until the thighs become even with the knees at a 90-degree angle. The knees should be behind the toes during the move.
- Stand up.
Repeat the move 15 times. Complete three sets of 15.
As a variation, you can do a one-legged squat. This exercise works your glutes and hips more intensely, and it consists of the same steps. Instead of keeping both legs on the ground, extend and straighten one leg when squatting down. The foot should be flexed. Be careful not to squat too low with this one, to minimize the risk of injury.
5. Side Step With a Band
The banded side step is a perfect exercise if you wish to activate and strengthen the crucial gluteus muscles that are responsible for hip stabilization. This is an excellent exercise for lower body training as well.
You’ll need to use a resistance band to perform this exercise.
How to Do the Banded Side Step
- Separate your feet so they are in line with your shoulders.
- Place the resistance band above your knees and keep the chest up.
- Slightly squat and bend using your hips. The point is to boost the strength in your glutes.
- Use one leg to step to the side for a stance that’s outside your shoulder width.
- Bring both legs together between the two steps. There should be a solid bending tension during the steps, meaning you need to keep your legs apart enough throughout the exercise.
- Keep stepping out with one leg until you complete the set (15 repetitions for three sets).
If you find the exercise too easy with the resistance band above your knees, you can lower the band for added power. Ultimately, you can lower it to your ankles for the most advanced position.
6. Hip Adduction
Hip adduction is the exercise you want to do to focus on balance for supporting your running stride. When you land on each step, you challenge your balance in the frontal and transverse planes, making this exercise a robust stabilizer for counteracting the two forces. This tends to be a weak point for many runners, and they compensate for the weaker work of their hip adductors with their back or knees, which may lead to injury.
You can do three sets of 8 reps on each side.
- Get a box or a step and step on it with one leg. Make sure to step closer to the edge of the element. Stand tall.
- Move one leg to the side while keeping the rest of the body straight, similar to the side leg lift exercise.
Once you find your balance with this exercise, you can take it a step further and try the advanced version.
- Stand on the box or step and kick one leg to the side.
- Place your hands around your head and continue with the exercise.
This creates a more challenging environment to keep your balance, to help you get the most out of the workout.
7. Heel Drop and Heel Hike on a Box or Step
Heel drop and hip hike exercises are perfect for runners who notice one hip dropping lower than another, or whose knees knock in while running. In fact, supporting hip musculature is crucial to be able to withstand gravity’s multiplicative effects when running.
The first exercise helps you engage hip adductors and balance on the support leg at the same time, while the second one takes the movement to the next level.
How to Do the Heel Drop Exercise
- Stand straight on a step or box with the left foot on the box and the right hanging next to it.
- Place the hands on the hips.
- Drop the right hip down and put it back up.
How to Do the Heel Hike Exercise
- Perform all the steps in the Heel Drop exercise.
- In Step 3, flex the left knee a little bit and drive the right hip up quickly.
Repeat the exercise 8 times for three sets. The Heel Hike exercise is a progression of the Heel Drop, but it’s not as hard as it gets. You can use ankle weights or a weight vest to make the movement even harder.
8. Hip Flexor Exercise – Couch Stretch
Hip flexor exercises are perfect for boosting your range of motion to make you a better runner. We’ll start from the couch stretch, which is a super simple workout with an intense load on the front of the hip, as well as hip flexors.
This exercise will also give you a stretch in the quads of the bent leg. As a result, when doing this exercise for long enough, you’ll be able to swing your legs farther back when you run, giving you a bigger stride and faster times.
The couch stretch has three levels of progression, so you can experiment with whichever works best for you.
- Place yourself at the corner of a wall and floor (or box and floor) and drop down on all fours.
- Place one knee into the corner and keep your hands firmly on the floor.
- The other knee should be ahead of the one next to the corner.
- Squeeze the glutes and bring the hips forward.
- Follow the steps from Exercise 1 above and progress to bringing your foot up with the help of your hand.
- Push the hips forward with the glutes.
This will provide more stretch in the hip flexor and the quad compared to the basic exercise.
- Bring the hands off the floor and set your torso in the upright position.
- Squeeze the glutes so you don’t hyperextend the back.
You can choose any of the three positions. Ideally, aim to stay in the chosen position for up to three minutes for each leg to get the most out of the workout. You should integrate these stretching exercises after a previous hip or glute workout, to make sure your muscles are warmed up.
9. Knee Drive with Band
Here’s yet another hip exercise you can do with a resistance band. The band workouts may not be groundbreaking, but they are certainly effective when it comes to activating targeted muscles. When it comes to shaping your body for running, it’s important to ensure that you work the upper and lower body at the same time. The movement in this exercise targets the glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors.
You can do 8 reps of each exercise for three sets. If you’re up for a higher challenge, you can pause at the top for 2-3 seconds to add to the intensity.
- Place the resistance band on both your feet.
- Drive the opposite arm and leg up at the same time.
- Head straight towards the ceiling. The idea is to create an explosion on the way up.
10. Quadriceps Hip Extension
This exercise is a great overall workout for runners that focuses on the gluteus maximus and gluteus medius. Here’s how to get this exercise right.
- Drop down on your hands and knees on a flat surface. Remain in a tabletop position.
- Keep the arms in a straight position and keep the knees bent at 90 degrees.
- Squeeze the glutes, then press the left heel toward the sky while raising the right thigh upward.
- Stay focused on the moving leg instead of engaging the back.
- When you’re at the top, take a short pause (1-2 seconds) and then lower the right leg down.
- Repeat the movement on the other side.
You can repeat this exercise 8 times on each side. Aim for three sets in the beginning.
You can go a step further for a more challenging move and use a band under the knee that’s lying on the floor and above the knee that’s in the air.
The clamshell is a great exercise for targeting the gluteus medius and adding to your hips’ overall strength and balance. Your main focus should be on the leg; try not to engage the back while you do the movement.
- Lie down on your side on a flat surface. Keep your ankles, knees, and hips on top of each other.
- Bend the knees at a 45-degree angle and keep your feet behind you. Support your head with the bottom arm and keep the top arm on the hip or at your side.
- Raise the top knee and keep the feet together.
- Take a short pause at the top (1-2 seconds) and lower the knee without touching the other one.
You can repeat this exercise 10 times on each side. Do three sets in total.
For a more challenging clamshell version, use a light resistance band above your knees and follow the steps as described above. By doing so, you’ll stimulate your gluteal activation for faster results.
12. Standing Hip Hinge with Rotation
This last exercise for hip strength will help you gain more flexibility in the hip area and boost your balance.
- Stand on a flat surface with both feet in line with your hips.
- Place your hands on your hips.
- Lift your left foot off the ground (no more than 3-4 inches).
- Hinge forward at the hips.
- Shift your left leg back into the air.
- Rotate your torso left to right.
- Keep rotating for 30 seconds and repeat the exercise on the other side.
You can repeat this exercise for three sets total.
Important Note for Runners
All exercises included in this article are meant to be performed by healthy athletes with no previous injuries. If you’ve recently suffered a hip or gluteus injury, it’s best to consult your physical therapist to determine whether the exercises above are safe for you. They can suggest the best exercises to bring your hip back to optimal running shape without the risk of injury.
How Often Should I Do Hip-Strengthening Exercises?
For the best effect, aim for three to four whole-body workouts per week. As previously mentioned, focusing solely on one muscle group won’t have as good an effect as working your whole body.
What Are the Best Hip-Strengthening Exercises?
Some of the best hip-strengthening exercises you can do anytime and anywhere include side leg lifts, donkey kicks, glute bridge, clamshell, heel drop, and hip flexor exercises.
How Long Does It Take to Strengthen Hips?
It can take anywhere from three to six weeks of regular hip muscle workouts to boost the strength and endurance of this body part.
Time to Get Those Hips in Shape
Strengthening your hips is the way to go if you want to boost your running speed, lengthen your stride and gain more balance as you run.
When you integrate hip-strengthening exercises like the bridge, hip flexor exercises, and all the other movements from this article into your weekly workout routine, you’ll start to see some amazing results.
Make sure to follow the instructions we provided to the letter to avoid injury, and feel free to change the repetition times according to your fitness level.