Last minute gains: Improving Hip Strength and Flexibility
My 2015 trail running season was cut short in late July. Sidelined with a stress fracture and tendonitis, I went from running 40-50 miles per week to a steady zero-- which I dutifully maintained throughout the fall. Unlike previous years where I trained for ski season by augmenting runs with bi-weekly box jumps, squats and fast hikes up Salt Lake’s steepest peaks and lunch runs up the ski jump hill, this season I’ve had to tone down weight-bearing activities (hello, swimming).
While I wait for snow and the permission to run (which undoubtedly will converge), I've been reading up on hip strength and flexibility may be the ticket to improve uphill performance without taxing the legs. After my first mellow skins and post-injury uphill hikes, I've felt really good despite how little conditioning I've truly had.
Read on for ideas on supplementary hip and core exercises. As an added bonus they're a quick and easy addition even to the heaviest your training weeks. And should only improve your spread eagle technique
Improving Hip Flexibility
Hip flexors (psoas and iliacus) control leg extension. In running, tightness in the hip flexors can not only compromise range of motion, but can also encourage the ankle and knee to compensate. While the pace of touring may be slower and less impacting than your average trail run, ski touring relies heavily on extension and stride length. Additionally hip flexors tend to be tight in people who sit at work (hint hint). Luckily, improving hip flexibility is pretty simple, it just calls for STRETCHING!
- In a half kneeling position, keep a tall, straight spine (neutral position) and visualize tucking your butt under.
- Slowly push your targeted side hip forward till a stretch is felt to the front of your hip and upper quad.
- Alternatively, you can wedge your rear leg between the couch cushion and base of the couch.
- Do two per side for 30 seconds each.
In runners, hip strength and injury rate appear to be related. Strong hip flexors stabilize the pelvis, stabilize the spine and support the body’s weight. Ski mountaineers and backcountry skiers can benefit from all the strength we can get. After all, we’re adding four pounds of boot, ski and binding to each foot and heading directly up a steady incline, for hours. Below is a video from former University of Colorado coach Jay Johnson which walks through a bunch of functional exercises designed to improve range of motion and strength.
Core workouts are where I’m most likely to get bored, so I like a concise circuit with the ability to add weight, rather than reps. I really like the methology found in Steve House's Training For the New Alpinism which includes shoulder, arm and leg strengthening alongside plan positions. You can view the 10 exercise core routine here. Mountain Athlete / Backcountry.com put together a core workout which emphasizes many of the same lateral and twisting exercises found in Training for the New Alpinism.
Last but not least, throw in some push-ups, pull-ups, tricep dips and you're all set.
Any other thoughts or resources that you've found helpful?
- Accumula Collaborator