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We believe that a runner’s stride begins at the hips, as the position your hips are in influences just about everything in the way you run. So lets briefly zoom-in on one important function of the hips: performing a movement known as hip extension.
When you run, the job of your leading leg is to land, use the momentum from it’s previous stride and then push (and slightly pull) your body forwards by pushing the ground backward. During hip extension (when your push-off leg is beginning to move behind your body), your gluteus maximus (a large muscle) is capable of performing it’s most work, so if you don’t quite reach or go through adequate hip extension you’re never quite using the force providing capability of your glutes. In fact, if you’re able to extend your hips during your gait can perform what’s called triple extension (when you simultaneously extend your hip, knee, and ankle) which is when you can produce high amounts of force through your body.
Aside from force, hip extension opens up your stride length to allow what we like to call ‘falling into your next stride’. Another key factor hip extension facilitates, is what is known as elastic recoil of the hips tendons. Tendons are somewhat like elastic bands, if you stretch them quickly, they spring back to their returning length. So during hip extension, you’re stretching your hips tendons which consequentially spring back to flex the knee and hip, pushing your knee back forward for the next stride.
In the video above, we chose Mo Farah’s 5km racing stride to illustrate hip extension. So keep in mind that even among elite athletes he has quite exceptional hip extension when running quickly. Despite this, hip extension is an important aspect of everyone’s biomechanics that can help ensure that one runs efficiently and with a low injury risk.
The basic strategy to training hip extension is as follows:
- gain mobility of your hip flexors
- strengthen and learn to active your glutes
- gain lumbar-pelvic control (i.e. when you extend your hips your lumar spine doesn’t ‘hyperextend’)
Mo Farah running video credit: JP Gloria