THE IMPORTANCE OF HIP EXTENSION IN RUNNING
Humans evolved over 200,000 years ago from our ancestors homo neanderthals. We have come from an active evolution of species designed for hunting, gathering, moving and essentially running. Millions of years ago, running wasn't something we did to look fantastic in our next mirror selfie. Running was a way of life. Running meant survival.
Early hominids didn't have the luxury or brain capacity to carve weapons and were not fast enough to sprint close to their pray. Therefore, they used 'persistence hunting' to exhaust their bigger, less endurance favoured prey (Lieberman, 2013).
Bearing this in mind, it is evident that our bodies were, at least initially, built for long distance running. What then, went wrong?
Let's focus today on 'hip extension.' How does a hip 'extend'? Hip extension is the movement of your upper thigh or femur moving backwards behind your centre of mass. Think the position your thigh goes into when your back leg is pushing off and about to toe off when running. Hip extension is either your best friend or your biggest foe. Read on to help you extend the invite to your hip to follow behind you on your next run.
The glutes muscles are the strongest, and therefore main extender of the hip. They sit at the perfect mechanical advantage to drive that thigh back behind the body to give you the much needed power for push off. Although a series of fortunate events have to take place elsewhere (namely obtaining enough ankle dorsiflexion, 1st toe dorsiflexion, and pelvic control), the main reasons why people aren't using their greatly designed gluteal muscles are as follows:
We sit too much.
We get up from lying down for 8 hours and we sit down to eat breakfast. We sit to drive to work, we sit at work all day, we sit in the drive home, we sit at home and watch tv. All day, the muscles at the front of the hip are placed in a shortened position. This can create hip flexor tightness. Hip flexor tightness causes the pelvis to tilt anteriorly.
This tightness can cause a switching off effect of the glutes, as it becomes harder to achieve hip extension.
We have poor abdominal or core control.
My definition of the role of the 'core', is the ability to maintain a neutral spine while we move the extremeties. If we have weakness in our abdominal muscles we will naturally move into an anterior pelvic tilt position when we run. As we can see on the picture above, this moves our spine into a position of increased curve or lordosis. An increased lordosis causes us to preferrentially arch our back when we run instead of getting our hip into extension. This is the main reason for low back pain with running!
There are a plethora of different reasons that prevent us from achieving maximal hip extension when running and I have outlined just a few. Without this essential ability of the hip to extend, the foot is forced to contact further and further infront of the body as speed and stride length increases. This can become a cascade of problems.
In terms of running technique, most people will agree that if it's not broke then don't fix it. I disagree with that statement in regard to hip extension. If you lack hip extension in running and have no pain or problems, i still believe it's definitely beneficial to be working on improving the movement for improved efficiency and injury prevention.
Thanks for reading and i extend the invite to you all to get that hip firing.