This is Jonathan, an aspiring Boston marathoner. We met for a session without any significant pain or known issues, so everything should be perfect right? Here’s a video of his run form initially.
My first observation is how his left hip behaves upon impact, as well as the increased left side bending of his upper body at foot strike on the left side compared to the right side. Upon closer assessment, we found that his left hip is limited in external rotation (turning out), as well as extension.
Now why is external rotation significant with running? The hip just flexes and extends right? At the risk of getting too geeky here, it’s worthwhile to give a brief synopsis of why rotation is needed. As Jonathan’s left leg swings forward, it is flexing with the ground as it’s frame of reference, and the right leg is extending. This creates a natural right rotation of the pelvis, again with the ground as the frame of reference. So, relative to the ground, his left hip is flexing, but relative to his pelvis, the hip is also externally rotating (abducting too, but that’s for another time!). So, to answer the question, a healthy amount of external rotation is needed to allow for a graceful loading of the hip and core, without it, he has to compensate by loading his core in an asymmetrical and inefficient way. This can be a cause of low back pain with running, but thankfully Jonathan isn’t having any issues and addressing it now, is much easier than scrambling as you get closer to race time.
So here’s what we did to get the hips moving better. A general hip flexor stretch with the upper body helping (a good one for runners and anyone stuck at a desk!)
Next, a hamstring biased hip external rotation stretch.
Thirdly, a glute biased hip external rotation stretch.
And lastly, a stability exercise to tie it all together.
So after these drills, this is what he looked like.
Not a dramatic change, but he certainly looks more graceful and symmetrical through the hips and core. With consistent performance of these drills his form should become more efficient. Keep it up and perhaps we can do a ‘Jonathan reloaded’ post as training progresses. Great job Jonathan!
As a bonus, here’s another way to get improved hip external rotation. This is my favorite way to do it, but as part of this post’s session, we used the equipment on hand as this is where he will likely be doing his stretches most consistently.