The hip joint, which is a ‘ball and socket’ type joint, comes into action when we walk, run, or jump. The joint and its muscles allow us to move our legs in three planes: forward (extension), backward (flexion), and inward and outward (twisting). The group of muscles responsible for the flexion or the movement of knees toward the stomach, are referred to as the hip flexor. Its composition is:
- Iliopsoas or inner hip muscles
- Psoas major
- Iliacus muscle
- Rectus femoris muscles – which are part of the quadriceps
- Adductor longus
- Adductor brevis
Stretches for Muscle Strengthening
While doing these exercises, you should be able to differentiate between a good, comfortabl, and a painful stretch. Going beyond your limit may result in a muscle tear and injury. Do these exercises slowly and avoid jerky movements. Repeat the stretches for both the hips at least twice. Do remember to warm up every time you start any kind of exercises.
Rest your left knee and right foot on the ground. Maintain perfect balance with a straight back. Now, move the left knee 1 foot behind. While doing this exercise, you may experience a stretch in the muscles along the front of the left hip. Maintain this position for 45-60 seconds, only if not painful. Repeat the exercise for the other leg.
Stand with your feet firmly on the ground and move your left leg a step backward. Allow both your knees to bend slightly. Keep the back straight. Move your left hip in the forward direction, until you experience the pull in your muscles. Repeat the same for the other side as well. While doing the exercise, hold the position for 30-60 seconds.
Lift Your Knee
Support your back to a plinth or a pedestal-like structure. Its top edge should come up to your buttocks. Lift your left knee towards your chest. Lower yourself backwards on the top of the structure you have chosen. While doing this, you should experience the muscle pull in the right hip. Do the same by lifting the other leg. Hold the position for 30-60 seconds.
One should always try to achieve a balance between strength, endurance, and flexibility of the body. Developing the hip flexor results in the lengthening of your strides, which simply means that you cover more distance with each stride. This makes your running efficient and reduces the risk of an injury. These muscle exercises take only a few minutes to perform, and they invariably concentrate on the major muscles that are involved in running.
Splits and Iliotibial Band
This exercise will help to flex your adductor muscles. It will help you relax these muscles, as well as take the strain off the iliotibial band (IT band) present on the sides of the thigh bones. IT band is a tissue that runs from the pelvis, over the hip and knee, and inserts itself just below the knee. It is responsible for stabilizing the knee movements during running, but it is prone to iliotibial band friction syndrome that is characterized by inflammation. Spread your feet apart as much as possible while keeping them parallel. Fold your arms at the elbows and hold them in the front of your chest. Bend towards the ground and try to reach it with your folded arms.
Hamstring is the most vital muscle set involved in running. By working on it, you will also be able to relax your lower back muscles. Start by bending over at the waist. Let your hands and fingers hang towards your toes. Allow your neck muscles to relax and let your head hang. It will loosen your hip flexor muscles along with the groin muscle set.
Place your hands by the side of your feet, on the ground. Move your left foot backward and stretch the left leg to its full length. Rest the left foot on its toes. This aim here is to stretch the hip flexor muscles. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds. If you take up this position and let your left foot roll and rest on its inside edge, flat against the ground, it will help you exercise the groin muscles. Repeat the same for the other side.
If your quadriceps are tight or aren’t flexible enough, they will affect your running, by decreasing your back kick. This will result in short strides and extra energy. To do this exercise, stand on your foot and maintain your body in perfect balance. If need arises, you can hold on to a nearby object. Stand erect and fold your left leg at the knee. Take a grip on the left foot with the left hand and pull it up, in such a way that the left knee will point towards the ground.
Flexible and strong calf muscles will help you in avoiding Achilles tendinitis. While running, as you are bringing your trailing leg forward to plant it on the ground, they will help you by taking a part of the workload off your shin.
These exercises must be performed by runners as well as people who wish to maintain a healthy body. Warming up before doing any of these is very crucial.