The Importance of Good Hip Extension
Efficient Hip Movement
This past month saw the world’s best compete in the Track and Field World Championship, and I enjoyed watching some great performances. I enjoy the drama of the races, but I also enjoy analyzing the techniques they use, as I do with every sport I watch!
One of the top billed races was the Men’s 10,000m. The race started off like a chess game with the athletes switching positions, it was tight and there were a couple of runners who came close to tripping. The final lap eventually went down to a sprint over the last 200m. During this last lap, all of the runners had great hip extension, which I often find lacking in recreational runners. The winner was a particularly good example, and for this reason was particularly elegant. You can see what I mean by hip extension in illustration B below, where the movement occurs while maintaining a neutral spine and pelvis. Hip extension is an important propulsive force primarily provided by gluteus maximus.
My experience with recreational runners is that they either run with less hip extension or they make compensations to create the force that hip extension should give. One example is seen in illustration C where the runner creates an apparent hip extension by leaning forwards. As you can see from the red vertical line, this shifts the center of mass forward, which is not good for optimal loading of the joints. The other example is seen in illustration D, where the runner creates apparent hip extension by arching the back more. This causes shortened tight spine extensors which cause increased loads on the back of the disc and the joints that give the spine motion. The key point is that these are not optimal patterns of motion and do not lead to the gluteus maximus providing force. Instead they lead to other structures trying to stabilize and produce force, which increases their risk of injury. In both cases, force may be generated by excessive use of the calf, hamstrings, quads, and can leads to strains and tendonitis in these muscles.
Compare these different versions of hip extension with the highlight video of the world 10k final which was won by Mo Farrah. (The final lap is at the 2:45 mark of the video.) Watch how upright and poised they are with notable hip extension driving them forwards. You will see these top athletes use hip extension as seen in illustration B.
This level of fluidity can not be achieved by every athlete; we are looking at the worlds best! However, in my experience changes can be made to benefit the recreational runner. I find video analysis to be helpful in showing the athlete that they do not have the hip extension they need and any compensations they are making. I have found that after applying the exercises and cueing strategies I have recommended, runners come back telling me about significant improvements:
- Reduced pain during/after running
- Reduced injury risk
- Enhanced recovery from injury
- Reduced fatigue
- Improved performance, including new PRs!
Interestingly, the triathletes I have seen have also reported improvements in their swim and cycling times, even though they initially saw me for a running assessment. For them, improved hip extension allows for a better power phase on the bike and a stronger kick in the swim. In swimming, there is a strong case that a good kick will take strain from the shoulder, which is the number one injured joint for a swimmer. In cycling, there is a strong case that good glut max strength will help avoid hamstring injuries. I could continue to explain for many other sports the importance of this muscle and this motion, but we don’t have time here!
But this does start a short series where I show and tell the best exercises to get the major hip extensor gluteus maximus working! Click here for the first exercise!