Sadly, as we reach middle age, hip mobility becomes drastically reduced, but we can change that.
Tight hips mean smaller steps. Now, if you’ve worked with me, you know I emphasize smaller steps and higher cadence, BUT if your steps are limited by tight hips, that’s bad; that’s a whole different can of worms, and loosening up those hips will allow you to keep to a high cadence, while still swinging your upper legs farther apart. What I don’t want you to do is to reach out with your feet to achieve longer steps, and that’s what most runners do. That will result in overstriding and that will lead to other problems.
However, we do want your upper legs to swing freely from your pelvis. This is the movement that becomes restricted with age.
The two things to remedies are stretching and strengthening. Talk to any physical therapist. They always encourage stretching tight, problematic areas, but in the next breadth, they tell you that the other half of the solution is strengthening weak muscles. Often, we think a muscle is tight, but the problem is that it’s too weak to do what we’re asking it to do.
To increase hip mobility:
- Run hills. Incorporate hills into at least one workout each week. A good alternative, if you have no convenient hills are pedestrian overpasses and bridges. Failing that, climb stairs, progressing to climbing two at a time.
- Practice stretches specifically designed to open up the hips. Some may be virtually impossible, now, but over time, as your hips start to loosen up, you’ll be able to do more.
- Take yoga classes. These will virtually always include poses known as hip openers, and most communities you can find classes geared specifically for runners.
- Strengthen the right muscles to allow you to move correctly. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a muscles gets, basically, turned off. This causes limited mobility and means that other muscles become overworked. Strengthen your hip flexors and glutes. Weak glutes often lead to hip flexor tightness.
- Foam roll and get regular sports massages.
Below are links to videos and articles that will be helpful, but be careful and move through these, gradually. It’s not at all unusual for the exercises and stretches to improve your movement to actually cause discomfort or a backache the next day. For that reason, progress slowly. If something causes more discomfort than you’d expect from a new stretch, back off and work around that particular stretch until you’ve seen improvement from other stretches and exercises. You know your body and its limitations. Be gradual and ask yourself “Is this going to be okay for me to do with my body?” The movements in the list below are not in any way extreme, but that doesn’t mean they’re right for everybody. I can’t know if you have back or spine issues that would make any of these unsafe for you. Just be careful. These are all generally accepted as good exercises to improve hip mobility. As with anything, increase these movements, gradually, adding one more every few days, and never stretch to the point of pain. That is a bad idea. Just stretch until you feel a gentle pull.
Hip/back Helpful for people who are quad dominant or who sit for hours each day. Good for tight hips, patellor/femoral (runner’s knee) pain.