The gluteals are very important stabilising muscles, especially when walking or running. When one foot is in contact with the ground the abductors are working ‘quasi-isometrically’ to control the pelvis, preventing it from dropping down on the swing leg side. The hip abductor muscles need good strength endurance to be able to perform this movement consistently well. The hip-hitch exercise is an isolating movement which targets the hip abductors’ ability to lift the opposite side of the pelvis and the weight of the other leg. It is a subtle and small movement, so requires particular attention to the coaching points.
To isolate the gluteus medius and minimus muscles, training their ability to abduct the hip in a running-specific position.
All runners will benefit from this exercise.
- Stand on one leg, either on the floor or on a small step;
- Bend the free leg slightly, so the pelvis can move up and down, but do not lift the leg up, otherwise you will reduce the effective weight of the leg;
- The free-side hip and leg need to be one unit, going up and down together so that they provide a suitable load for the hip abductors to pull up;
- Ensure the lumbar spine is in the neutral position. Engage your deep abdominals to achieve this.
- Allow the free leg-side hip to drop down slightly. The whole leg should lower with the hip as it drops;
- Just drop a small amount, keeping the pelvis square at the front. Too much hip drop will cause the pelvis to rotate.
- Using the standing-leg gluteals only, pull the free-leg hip back up to a level position;
- As the hip lifts up, the weight of the leg comes back up with it, working the hip abductor muscles;
- You must focus upon the gluteals of the standing leg performing the pull as opposed to the oblique of the free leg side pulling up. Many athletes will try to cheat by pulling up with the same side stomach muscles and not the opposite side hip muscles;
- Placing your fingers upon the top of your gluteals – where the hip abductors can be palpated – will provide feedback to tell the athlete they are activating these muscles correctly;
- Using a mirror also helps, as it enables the athlete to return to the level position easily.
Start with 2 sets of 20 reps each side. Perform the exercises slowly, lowering for one count and raising for one count. Progress to 3 sets of 45 reps each side. Once you are at this level you will develop good strength endurance in the hip abductors specific to their stabilising task during running. To progress the exercise further, add ankle weights to the free leg side.