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When you run, your hip flexors control your hip extension.
You use your hip flexors to pull your thigh forward when you take a step forward. Every time you kick in front of you, those muscles come into play. If your hip flexors are too tight, they'll limit your hip extension as you drive forward in the driving phase of your running gait. This condition will reduce your stride length as well as decrease the power generated by your extensor muscles. It can also cause muscular imbalances and warp your posture. Since your running speed depends on stride length and stride rate, or how frequently you take a stride, more flexible hip flexors can help you to run faster.
Lack of Flexibility
Buried under other muscles, the two main hip flexor muscles are the iliacus and psoas major, which are collectively called the iliopsoas. The psoas major attaches to your lower vertebrae and extends across the frontal region of your hip. The iliacus reaches across the inside of the hip bone and is anchored to your thigh bone. The hip flexors enable you to not only take forward strides but also maintain correct posture. Working long hours in an office and too much sitting shortens your hip flexors. A swayback can also result from tightness in these muscles. Lack of flexibility of your hip flexors restricts your glutes, decreasing their ability to contract. When this happens, it can impair your running form and efficiency, slowing you down.
How Tight is Tight?
If tightness in your groin is affecting your ability to extend your stride, you can check your hip flexor mobility with a simple test. Lie supine and draw one knee toward your upper body. The usual range of hip flexion is about 120 degrees, according to Marc Evans' book вЂњTriathlete's Edge.вЂќ To test extension, lie on your stomach and lift one leg. If the angle of the raise is about 30 degrees, then it's normal. If it's lower, then your flexors are probably too tight and need to be stretched.
To stretch your hip flexors, you can perform forward lunges. Step forward with your right foot, keeping your foot flat, and bend your knee so it's at a 90-degree angle to your body. Your right thigh should be parallel to the ground. Position your left leg directly behind you, knee bent and down and with your heel lifting off the ground. Extend your arms to the sides if you need more balance. Keep your upper body help high and hips low. To deepen the stretch for your hip flexors, lean backward. For a second stretch, lie supine on the edge of a bed or a table and slowly lower your outside leg off the edge.
Boosting the endurance of your hip flexors so you can drive forward and with the same range of motion on each stride is critical to maintaining your running speed. According to Michael Yessis' article вЂњWhy Runners Should Strength TrainвЂќ in Running Times, the analysis of hundreds of athletes who run1,500-m races or longer, the main reason for slowing down was because they couldn't maintain the same forward knee thrust over the same range of motion during the race. A single exercise to build your hip flexors can positively impact your speed. A common but effective exercise is to simply lift your thigh directly forward and repetitively. You can use rubber tubing as resistance in a knee-drive exercise. Leg lifts in which you work the legs in multiple directions - in, out, forward and back - can also strengthen your hip flexors.
- Textbook of Running Medicine; Francis G. O'Connor et al.