Hip Extension – A Key Link To Improve Your Running
By: Dr. Brian Abelson DC.
What is Triple Extension?
When athletes think about increasing their ability to run faster with less effort, they often talk about stride length and foot turnover (cadence). As important as these factors are, there is also another key factor called “Triple Extension”. Triple Extension refers to the simultaneous extension of the hip, knee, and ankle to propel the body forward during the propulsive phase of gait.
Propulsive extension occurs when we push the ground back with our standing leg, as the ground passes under our body (our center of gravity). This occurs during the mid-to- late stance of gait. If you want to see the epitome of effective propulsive extension when running, take a look at elite Kenyan and Ethiopian runners. These runners demonstrate an impressive amount of extension before their foot leaves the ground. While running the Paris Marathon, I was fortunate enough to see some of these runners float down the course while moving at incredible speeds (2:05 marathon time)
Muscles Used In Hip Extension
When running the majority of the required extension occurs through your hip. The primary muscles that move your hip back into extension are your Glutes (Gluteus Maximus). Your hamstrings also assist, by acting as secondary hip extensors. For optimal hip extension to take place, both of these groups of muscles require a strong stable base from which they can generate force. This base is your pelvis, which must be maintained in a stable neutral position. This requires:
– A strong stable core.
– Flexibility and strength in all the muscles that attach to the pelvis.
– Balance between opposing muscles. A combination of tight hip flexors and weak glutes often results in the development of abnormal motion patterns.
– Optimal joint mobility.
– Lack of myofascial restrictions. A restriction at any point along the hip’s kinetic chain can result in muscular compensations and development of abnormal motion patterns.
Hip Compensation Leads to Injury
Human beings are masters of compensation. When one muscle stops functioning correctly, another muscle always compensates. For example, if the pelvis is tilted anterior (forward) the hamstrings tighten, this causes the muscles on the front of your legs (quadriceps) to work harder than they normally would. This increased stress on the quads will cause restrictions to form. These restrictions cause abnormal motion patterns, which then lead to a host of common knee injuries such as runner’s knee, meniscus entrapment, or ligament injuries.
Sitting is one of the main contributors of hip dysfunction. Sitting for long periods of time causes shortening of our primary hip flexors (iliacus and psoas muscles). Your hip flexors are the oppositional or antagonistic muscles to the hip extensors. When your hip flexors become tight, they neurologically inhibit the gluteal muscles (primary extensors), resulting in weak hip extension and an overall decrease in running performance.
When the glutes do not provide the needed forward propulsion, other muscle in your lower extremity often try to compensate. For example, your calf muscles (plantar flexors) may take on more of the load than they can normally handle. In such cases, it does not take long before the calf muscles become stressed and injuries such as Achilles Tendonitis, and Plantar Fasciitis start to occur. Another common compensation is for the medial quadriceps (Rectus Femoris) to tighten up leading to a host of knee problems.
How We Can Help?
Through a process of biomechanical analysis, musculoskeletal therapy, and a functional exercise programs, we have been very successful at bringing runners into a higher level of running performance. This success is largely due to our consideration of a much larger kinetic chain. Take a look at a few of the exercises (on the side panel) that we prescribe to address problems with hip extension. It is important to note, that our doctors customize our exercise routines based on each individual’s unique set of muscular compensations and requirements. These are only a few examples from our large data base of the exercises.
For more information, watch our video about “Myofascial Release of Hip Flexors”.
Watch These Videos
- Youtube Video: Play List of Myofascial Release of Hip Flexors
- One Leg Split Squad