I think it’s safe to say the seasons have officially changed. The sun stays up later, you can comfortably wear a tank top, and even the air smells different. This nicer weather makes compels us to move outside and move some of our workouts outdoors, too.
Nature’s favorable conditions spur many runners to hop off the treadmill and hit the pavement. Maybe you’re training for a big race, or maybe you just enjoy the freedom to run farther in the longer daylight hours. One thing is certain, when a runner has a sudden increase in their frequency or mileage, the potential for injury increases as well.
Having strong hips and knees are especially important for runners, but this aspect of training can be helpful for anyone who enjoys vigorous or repetitive exercise. After spending the winter huddled in a corner clinging to body heat, our hip strength could probably use a little attention.
If you like to incorporate regular exercise into your lifestyle, it’s not uncommon to experience some kind of pain in the hips or knees at some point. It may appear as anything from a sharp sensation or dull ache in the outside of the leg to a clicking or popping sound in the joints.
The North American Journal of Sports Physical Therapy published a study in 2007 called “Hip Strength and Knee Pain in Females.” The study concluded that, “Strength of the gluteus medius and maximus muscles were significantly less in the extremities of patients experiencing knee pain than the extremity without knee pain.” In other words, having strong hips and reducing knee pain go hand in hand.
Your hip muscles, primarily your gluteus medius, control the position of your knees. Having a weak gluteus medius allows the thigh to rotate inward, putting a surplus of stress on the knee joint. Excessively tight hip flexors may exacerbate this problem, because it inhibits activation in the glute muscles. Neglecting to strengthen the hips may put you at risk for injury. These are some common conditions for athletes:
Iliotibial (IT Band) Syndrome: Your IT band runs along the outside of the thigh and crosses both the hip and knee joints. It helps to stabilize movement in the knee and aids in hip abduction. This tendon can become irritated and inflamed due to overuse, which usually leads to pain and tenderness in the outside of the knee.
Hip Bursitis: Bursae are fluid filled sacs located in the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, and heel. They rest between the bone and soft tissue, and help to lubricate the joint. Overusing the hip during vigorous or repetitive exercise creates friction that may cause the bursae in this joint to become irritated and inflamed. Other than discomfort, you may also experience stiffness or a reduced range of motion in that leg.
As Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Luckily, injuries in the hips and knees can be improved and prevented with physical therapy. Don’t spend a beautiful summer recuperating on the couch from an early season injury. Before your next workout, try a few of these hip strengthening exercises. Overtime these moves will give your knees the support they need, as well as get your glutes fired up and ready to run.
Cable Abduction: You can use a resistance band or a low pulley on a cable machine. Stand with your shoulder next to the band or cable, and attach the unanchored end to your outside ankle. Brace your core and stand up tall (you can hold onto something for balance.) Pull the outside leg to the side, keeping your hips in line, then use control to return the leg in. Aim for 2 sets of 10-12 reps on each leg. *If you don’t have access to a band or cable machine, this exercise can be done easily from a side lying position.
Ball Squat: Using a stability ball, stand with your back facing a wall. Place the stability ball at your low back, and stand with feet aligned under your hips. Sit back and lower your hips into a squat. Hold for three seconds, then press back up to stand. Squeeze your glutes in the squat, and try not to let your knees collapse in. Aim for 2 sets of 10-12 reps.
Band Walks: Loop a resistance band around your ankles, and stand with feet about shoulder width apart. Step out to the side, then allow the other foot to follow. Maintain tension on the band the entire time, and try to keep your chest from tipping forward. You can also perform this exercise moving forward or backward by stepping in a diagonal motion. Take 10-12 steps in each direction.
Bridge Leg Extension: Begin lying on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Press your hips up into a bridge position. Extend your right leg out in line with the opposite knee, then place that foot down. Extend your left leg out, then put that foot down. Lower the hips. That’s one rep. Aim for 2 sets of 10-12 reps. Keep your tailbone tucked and brace your core. Try to keep your hips still as you transition legs.
Side Plank Hip Dip: Come into a side lying position. Place your forearm on the floor with the elbow aligned under the shoulder; hips and legs are stacked. Lift your bottom hip off the floor, creating a straight line from the crown of the head to the toes. Squeeze your oblique muscle, then lower the hips down. Aim for 10-12 reps, and repeat on the other side.
*To modify this exercise, bend the knees for more support.
-Erin Hackbarth, LulaFit Trainer