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Improving Running Efficiency: Hip Extension (Part 1)

Are you looking to be a more efficient runner and decrease risk for injury? Addressing hip extension may help! Of course, there are many nuances of running form that can affect running efficiency and risk for injury, however, one of the most common running form deviations that I see in the clinic is a lack of hip extension. This can lead to a plethora of injuries at the low back, hip, knee, and even into the foot and ankle!

What is hip extension?

Hip extension is when the femur (thigh bone) is behind our body or when our leg passes behind our center of gravity when we are running or walking. This motion is performed primarily by our gluteus maximus and hamstring muscle, but we also get some help from the adductor magnus muscle to achieve this motion.

Now that we know what hip extension is, let's look at how we use it during running:

Hip extension is essential for power production and forward propulsion during the push off phase while running. From initial contact to when our leg travels under us during the stance phase of running, our body is absorbing shock and energy from the impact of our step from our initial contact with the ground. In this phase, our muscles are being loaded with energy in preparation to release it during push off. When we begin to transition from mid-stance to push off, our body begins to release this stored energy.

Hip extension, when also coupled with knee extension and ankle plantar flexion is called “triple extension”. This is when simultaneous extension occurs at the hip, knee, and ankle. This position is our power phase of running that drives us forward and improves our stride. Triple extension all begins with our hip extension. If we do not have enough hip extension, we will not be able to get into the most efficient triple extension positioning. This will automatically decrease our ability to produce the most efficient energy used to propel us forward and can further lead to compensation or stress on other parts of our body causing an abundance of running related injuries. Therefore it is crucial to have enough hip extension available AND to utilize the correct musculature to extend our hip during push off.

We must have enough hip extension mobility and hip extensor strength to perform hip extension during running.

In order to get adequate hip extension range of motion, we must have the available hip joint mobility and enough extensibility through our hip flexors. Our hip flexor muscle group is located on the front side of our hips and includes the iliopsoas, rectus femoris, tensor fasciae latae, sartorius, and pectineus muscles. The biggest cause of tightness in these muscles is something we all do all day long: sitting. There are also many other causes of hip flexor tightness including hip flexor weakness, postural deficits, and/or inactivity. While their primary responsibility is hip flexion (bringing the thigh forward), they also play a large role in hip extension. How, you ask? During hip extension, when our leg passes under us as we are running, these muscles are being stretched. We need about 10-15 degrees of hip extension during running, and if we do not have enough extensibility or flexibility of our hip flexors, we will not be able to achieve the necessary amount of hip extension that we need during running.

We must also have enough strength and motor control of our gluteal and hamstring muscles to push into extension, rather than using our low back or lower leg musculature. There can be many things that lead to not utilizing our glutes appropriately for hip extension. Poor muscle activation in the glutes, core, or hamstrings, simply weak muscles, or muscular imbalances can all affect and limit our ability to extend our hip.

Our body will find many ways to compensate for the lack of hip extension in our running form. You may see your back start to arch more, or your calf start to push off early, for example. A lack of hip extension can cause many compensations during running leading to anterior hip pain, low back issues, hamstring tendinopathy, quadricep and patellar tendinitis, and lower leg injuries such as calf strains, Achilles tendinopathy, medial tibial stress syndrome, or plantar fasciitis if it is not appropriately addressed.

Well, how do we address it???

Have no fear! I will be covering how to self-assess your hip extension and tips for improving hip extension mobility and strength with part 2 of this blog post! Stay tuned!

Thanks for reading!


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