Our expert, Matt Phillips, explains The Fire Hydrant, a hip mobility exercise
The hips are a particularly important joint for runners as they require both mobility and stability. Mobility is important in the sense that if you haven’t got enough in your hips, your body will seek it elsewhere, typically in the lumbar spine (lower back) which is thought to increase risk of injury. Stability is important because lack of hip abductor strength (gluteus medius and minimus, tensor fasciae latae) has been linked to increased hip internal rotation and adduction (leg drifting inwards) which in turn correlates with knee and lower back pain. As a result, it makes sense that part of your “two times a week conditioning” should include both strength and mobility training for the hips. Depending on how it is performed, the fire hydrant exercise can target hip mobility and stability. By being mindful and controlling tempo, mobility can be improved. By adding weight (such as a resistance band around the knees), stability can be developed.
1: Get into an ‘all fours’ position so that your shoulders are over your hands and hips over the knees. Find a comfortable ‘neutral’ position in the pelvis (for most this means not being excessively arched or humped).
2: While keeping the weight evenly distributed between the two hands, lift a bent leg away from the floor (into a position that explains why this exercise is called a ‘fire hydrant’ in the USA). Hold the leg out for two seconds and then take three seconds to slowly lower the leg back towards the start position. Repeat for 12-15 repetitions, ensuring that your body does not rotate. Aim to feel the hip abductors (top side of hip) tensing.
For mobility purposes, variety is key. In the case of the fire hydrant, you can experiment with bringing the knee up to the front (towards your elbow) or backwards (as shown below). For stability and strength, ensure that you work to failure, so that you stop at 12-15 reps because you are unable to do anymore. For some runners, the weight of your leg will be enough but others will need added resistance (such as a resistance band around the knees) to cause failure by 15 reps.
Target Muscles: Hip abductors (gluteus medius & minimus, tensor fasciae latae)
Sets & Reps: 3 sets of 12-15 reps
Tempo: Lift for 1, hold still for 2, slowly lower for 3.
Frequency: Include in your two strength & mobility sessions a week
Experiencing pain? If you get pain in the lower back when performing this exercise, it may be because your lumbar spine is too arched or you are rotating excessively to lift the leg. If this is the case, try tilting the pelvis slightly upwards so the lower back flattens out. You might not get the leg as high, but the effort may shift from the back and more to the side of the hips. If you cannot do this exercise without pain, seek help from a professional.
Matt Phillips is a Running Injury Specialist & Video Gait Analyst at StrideUK & Studio57clinic in Sussex.
Follow Matt on Twitter: @sportinjurymatt