Updated: Apr 21, 2022
Why poor hip mobility makes you a slow runner and why passive stretching is NOT the answer.
Dead butt syndrome.
You name it.
Your hips and glutes are your powerhouse as a runner.
And as a runner, when a part of that powerhouse, your hip flexors, feel hella tight after a long run or yesterday's hill or speed workout, you have to do something about it.
But I don't want you to miss the bigger picture. If this is only happening occasionally, it's no big deal. It can be par for the course. But if you're experiencing tight, stiff hips day in and day out…something's going to give eventually. (solve that problem HERE!)
But until it does, and you keep grinding through the tightness speed workout after speed workout, you might find you're getting frustrated that you're either not meeting your pace goals or you're starting to feel your hips limiting how fast you can run.
And you'd be right.
So a quick google search leads you down a rabbit hole of theraguns, passive stretches, and a medieval hip hook device that you supposedly lie on top of and let it dig into your psoas/hip flexors…
Can anyone else smell the desperation? (no, not you; you don't stink. The companies grabbing your hard earned money do.)
Here's what you need to know:
Chronically tight hips are a signal from your body that something's missing. Most often than not, hip mobility is where you need to start. And overtime, if that mobility isn't restored, this might limit how fast you run.
The catch is: passive stretching WILL actually improve your hip mobility, but….it WON'T carry over to your running.
Who says so?
Research. Science. Evidence.
Intrigued? Let's dive in!
Let's start here with something we know:
When runner's "hips are…tight or even immobile, muscle imbalance may occur and eventually lead to injury. Muscle imbalance in the hip often causes knee and hip pain, due to the hip flexors and quadriceps overworking in order to compensate for weaker, imbalanced muscle." (Teichmann, et al.)
You might have heard of "quad dominance" or runners being "quad dominant." The above quote is alluding to that. Teichmann's team is suggesting that due to tight, limited hips, "…life will find a way" (what, no Jurassic Park fans out there?).
Ok, breaking this down:
Your body is determined.
When it has a task to complete, it will find a way to complete its objective.
And the same applies to running. Despite having tight, limited hips and glutes that are NOT working at their optimal, your body will still find a way to make running happen. And the quads are a nice, big, powerful muscle group that can get the job done. The problem here, is that the quads and hip flexors are now taking on someone else's work and doing two jobs.
And this quad dominance can result in….
Hip tightness. And "tight hip flexors tend to shorten the [range of motion] (aka mobility) of a full step while in sprint, inhibiting performance" (Teichmann, et al).
Is it starting to make sense and come full circle?
Hence how we can come to the solution of stretching, and a lot of time passive stretching.
"When it comes to flexibility and mobility exercises, stretching is commonly used to effect an increase in ROM. In addition, to improve techniques that are sports specific, the combination of passive and static-active stretching exercises has been shown to provide larger changes in ROM…" (Teichmann, et al).
But we've been down this road before, running fit fam.
We KNOW from research and scientific evidence that passive stretching isn't king. More often than not, you get more bang for your buck (better mobility results that are actually beneficial to your performance) when you use dynamic stretches over passive. (want more answers than just that? Check out the blog post HERE!)
That's nice and all Dr. Whitt, but what about that static stretching part? It feels good and my hips feel open and lose afterwards; how can you say it doesn’t carry over and help my running?
Good question: let's talk about that.
One study performed a "a 3-week static stretching program of the hip flexor muscle group resulted in an increase in passive hip extension, but the sagittal plane kinematics of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex during running remained unchanged." (Mettler et al).
This study had runners stretch to improve hip extension (how far back your hip goes) and the runners actually did improve their mobility! But when their running form was analyzed, there were NO changes. Their hips were the same (and as limited) as they were before stretching.
What this study concluded was:
"the results suggest that passive hip joint flexibility may be of limited importance in determining the kinematics of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex during submaximal running. However, it is possible that an increase in the range of motion at the hip may be beneficial when running at or near maximal speeds." (Mettler et al).
Again, broken down:
They concluded these runners did in fact NEED more hip range of motion, but passive stretching was not the way. They further concluded that this increase in hip mobility is a good thing for regular running, but most definitely important for speed work where the more range you have can translate into the more power you can generate, allowing you to run faster.
It all connects. Can you start see the full circle?
So if we know tight, stiff hips are "bad" and are a warning signal from the body that your hips need some help, but we know that passive stretching can feel good but won't translate into better running form...
Then what are we supposed to do?
Easy: Do something different and Dare to Train Differently.
Because you already know what happens when you do the same stretches over and over again: they feel good, but are they solving your problem? Are they truly helping get rid that nagging tightness and stiffness?
I have something that might help.
And it's completely FREE.
I have a series of hip exercises all ready for you that can help banish stiffness, restore mobility, and help you run faster on your next speed workout.
What do you have to lose?
Grab your tailored made solution and runner-specific exercises HERE and let me know below in the comments or in a DM on IG: how do they feel? Do you have any questions about them? Have you noticed any changes?
Never be afraid to reach out with questions: It's all a part of Daring to Train Differently. And I'm here to help every step of the way.
Until next time,
Dr. Marie Whitt //@dr.whitt.fit
Konrad, A., Močnik, R., Titze, S., Nakamura, M., & Tilp, M. (2021). The Influence of Stretching the Hip Flexor Muscles on Performance Parameters. A Systematic Review with Meta-Analysis. International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 18(4), 1936. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18041936
Mettler, J., Shapiro, R., & Pohl, M. (2019). Effects of a Hip Flexor Stretching Program on Running Kinematics in Individuals With Limited Passive Hip Extension. Journal Of Strength And Conditioning Research, 33(12), 3338-3344. doi: 10.1519/jsc.0000000000002586
Teichmann, J., Burchardt, H., Tan, R., & Healy, P. (2021). Hip Mobility and Flexibility for Track and Field Athletes. Advances In Physical Education, 11(02), 221-231. doi: 10.4236/ape.2021.112017