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The hip flexors help you accelerate when you run.
You don't have to be an expert to understand that sprinters must develop strength in large muscle groups, such as the quadriceps, hamstrings and calves. At the same time, you can't ignore the small, critical muscles, such as the hip flexors. Sprint races are short -- distances up to 400 meters are considered sprints. So even a relatively minor physical improvement can help you score extra points in a team meet. Taking a fraction of a second off your time can also mean the difference between winning and losing, particularly in the shorter sprints.
Hip Flexors in Sprinting
The hip flexors are mainly spread along the upper part of your thighs. They include the iliopsoas, tensor fasciae latae, pectineus and long sartorius muscle, which stretches from your hip to the knee. The rectus femoris, which is part of the quadriceps group, also assists in hip flexion. When you run, the hip flexors help drive your legs forward as they push off the track. A 1993 study by the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, determined that the amount of torque participants produced while running was proportional to their hip-flexor strength. Strong hip flexors also help provide the endurance you need in the longer sprints.
Most leg raises target the iliopsoas but also work all of the other hip flexors. Unless you perform leg raises from a seated position, you typically begin the exercise with your legs straight and aligned with your torso. You then flex your hips and knees, bringing your knees up toward your chest. Alternatively, you can flex your hips, keep your legs fairly straight and try to raise your legs so they're roughly perpendicular to your torso. You can also do leg raises while hanging from a high horizontal bar, lying on a flat or incline bench, balanced on parallel bars or seated. Add intensity by placing cuffs on your ankles and attaching the cuffs to a low cable machine.
Decline situps also target the iliopsoas, while the other four hip flexors assist with your movements. Lie on a decline bench with your head on the bench's low end. Secure your knees at the top of the bench. Cross your arms on your chest and then raise your torso until it's perpendicular to the floor. Return under control to the starting position. Make the exercise more challenging by holding a weight plate against your chest or by increasing the bench's angle relative to the floor.
Running With High Knees
The high-knees exercise develops functional strength by simulating a sprint. Stand straight and then lean forward slightly, as you would during a race. Run in place, bringing your knees up to hip height and pumping your arms. Count your steps to run the equivalent of 50 meters per set or build up to that level. Perform three sets.
Do a five- to 10-minute cardio warm-up before you begin working your hip flexors. Perform eight to 12 repetitions of each weighted hip-flexor exercise. Use enough weight to make the last reps in each set difficult, but make sure to complete all your reps with the correct form. Work your hip flexors twice per week, but not on back-to-back days.