5 Hip-Strengthening Exercises for Runners

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Getting or remaining fit while avoiding injury is always at the forefront of a runner's mind. Your hips play an important role in running with proper form, improving run speed, and not getting sidelined with injuries. So keeping your hips strong and healthy is key to optimal running performance.

5 Hip-Strengthening Exercises for Runners

Brianna Gilmartin / Verywell

Why Hip Strength Is Important

Hip muscles are often the weak link for runners. "The hip abductors and adductors (groin and inner thigh) work together to stabilize your hip during running," says Melissa Bado Marchetti, PT, DPT, SCS, MTC, who specializes in sports physical therapy at One on One Physical Therapy in Atlanta. "So, if there is weakness in one or both of those muscle groups, the runner may experience pain." The abductor's and adductor's roles make it crucial for runners to keep them engaged and strong in order to do their job.

Weak hip muscles can compromise the mechanics of running, which may strain other muscle groups. This can cause overuse injuries, as other muscles work to compensate to stabilize the hip. Weak hips, especially in the gluteus medius (abductors) can lead to:

"When you run, there are a lot of shearing forces that go through the body specifically in the hips, pelvis, and sacroiliac (SI) joint," says Marchetti. "The stronger you are and the more optimal your running mechanics are, the more you minimize the impact of the shearing forces, which can prevent injury."

Beginner or recreational runners often don't understand the proper way to run. As with other sports, such as tennis or golf, runners can prevent injuries and learn how to keep hips healthy at the outset by seeking professional coaching on running mechanics.

Are Your Hips Weak?

It may be challenging to determine if a weak hip is a source of running pain, dysfunction, or performance issues. While a physical therapist or orthopedist can best identify where the problems lie, Marchetti says there are two simple tests you can try at home.

The Standing Deep Squat Test

First, spread your feet to just wider than hip-width. Keep your arms straight up reaching above your head. Squat down as far as you can. From there, see if you can get your butt down to your heels into a deep squat position without leaning forward or falling backward. If you can’t get all the way down, there is likely some muscle tightness, joint stiffness, or weakness limiting your motion. 

Hip Bridge Test

Another technique is to lay on the floor with your heels hip-width apart and fairly close to your hips. Perform a bridge lifting your hips off the floor. Stay as steady as you can, and try to lift one leg a few inches off the floor without your hips and pelvis dropping. If there is any sagging or dropping of your hips, there is likely some weakness in the hips. 

5 Hip-Strengthening Exercises

A 2013 study shows that the ideal hip-strengthening exercises activate the glutes while minimizing activation of the tensor fasciae latae (TFL), a thigh muscle that stabilizes the hip through various actions. Here are five hip-strengthening exercises that are great for runners and will allow you to put your best foot forward.

If you suffer from pain or an injury you should first speak to a physical therapist or orthopedist for an assessment on the source of your problem and suggestions on which exercises will best get your hips in optimal running shape.

Squats

The squat is a great overall hip-strengthening exercise because it targets all of the gluteal muscle groups: the gluteus maximus, and particularly the gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. The gluteus medius is one of the key muscles surrounding the hip.

Squats engage your core, mobilize your hips, knees, and ankles, and build strength in your quads and hamstrings. Another great thing about squats is you can do them anywhere, even when standing in a line.

To do squats:

  1. Stand and place feet between hip- and shoulder-width distance apart. Your spine should be neutral, shoulders back, chest up. Make sure you keep your heels down, and firmly planted throughout the squat.
  2. Hold your arms straight out or clasp your hands in front of your chest for balance as you move up and down.
  3. Sit back like you are sitting in a chair, leading with your butt.
  4. Lower your body down towards the floor until your thighs are even with your knees (about a 90-degree angle). Keep your knees behind your toes throughout the move.
  5. Stand back up and repeat.

Challenge Yourself: Squat Variation

You can make this exercise more challenging by doing a single-leg squat. This modification involves the same technique, but you extend one leg with a flexed foot when you squat down. A single-leg squat will activate the gluteus groups even more. Be mindful that squatting too low can lead to injury.

Clamshell

The clamshell targets the gluteus medius. Focus on using your leg during this exercise and not engaging your low back during the movement.

To do a clamshell:

  1. Lay down on your side with your hips, ankles, and knees stacked on top of each other.
  2. Bend your knees at a 45-degree angle with your feet behind you. Your bottom arm will support your head and your top arm will rest on your top hip or at your side.
  3. Keep your feet together while raising your top knee. Pause at the top, then lower the knee and repeat.

Challenge Yourself: Clamshell Variation

This exercise pairs well with a light resistance band. Follow the same steps while wearing the band just above the knees. The band stimulates more gluteal activation.

Banded Side Walk

The banded side walk is excellent at activating and strengthening your gluteus medius and gluteus minimus. These are the most important gluteal muscles for hip and pelvis stabilization.

To do a banded side walk:

  1. Take a resistance band, and place it right above the knee.
  2. Do a slight squat and slightly bend at the hips to activate the glutes.
  3. Take a step to the side one leg at a time, bringing the legs together between steps. Be sure to keep your feet forward and knees out versus locked in a straight position. You want to maintain solid band tension when stepping, which requires keeping your legs a good width apart.

Challenge Yourself: Banded Side Walk Variation

The lower the band is on your leg, the more resistance you will experience. If you want to test your limits, putting the band around the ankles is the most challenging placement.

Bridge

Bridging targets the posterior chain, which refers to all of the muscles on the back side of your body. The posterior chain includes the glutes, low back muscles, and hamstrings. All of these muscle groups are important to a runner's health and performance.

To do a bridge:

  1. Lay on the floor with both feet flat and knees bent and hip-width apart. Hands are at your sides.
  2. Use your feet to press up and raise your glutes off the ground.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement and lower your glutes back to the floor.

Challenge Yourself: Bridge Variation

If you want to make this exercise more dynamic, you can try bridging with one leg off of the floor (single-leg bridge).

  1. Set up the same as you would with the standard bridge.
  2. Instead of pushing upwards with both feet, drive the heel of one foot into the floor to raise your butt off the ground.
  3. While pushing upwards, raise the opposite leg off the ground and keep it straight out while you move up, then pause at the top of the movement.
  4. Lower slowly back to the ground. Perform exercise the same way on both sides

Quadruped Hip Extension

The quadruped hip extension is a well-regarded overall exercise for runners. This exercise targets the gluteus maximus on the leg that's extending and also some of the gluteus medius for hip and pelvis stabilization.

  1. Get down on the floor on all fours in tabletop position.
  2. Keeping your arms straight and both knees bent 90 degrees, squeeze your glutes and press your left heel flat toward the ceiling as you raise your right thigh upward. Maintain a 90-degree bend in the knee. Be sure to focus the movement on the leg that's moving and not engage the back.
  3. Pause at the top of the movement, and then lower your right leg back down to the ground.
  4. Repeat on other side.

Challenge Yourself: Quadruped Hip Extension

To make this move tougher, you can use a resistance band around the knee that's on the ground so that the band is pinned between the knee and the floor. You can place the band just above the knee on the lifting leg and then perform the steps above.

A Word From Verywell

Hip strength and flexibility go hand in hand in helping runners avoid injury and remain on good footing. Tight hip flexors restrict runners' range of motion and can cause low back pain. So be sure to make time to stretch your hips and surrounding muscles regularly, too.

Was this page helpful?
1 Source
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Selkowitz D, Beneck G, and Powers C. Which exercises target the gluteal muscles while minimizing tensor fascia lata. Electromyographic assessment using fine-wire electrodes. J Phys Ther Sci. 2013 Feb; 43 (2) 54-64. doi:10.2519/jospt.2013.4116