Improving stride hinges on your hips. That’s because hip flexors – the muscles that allow flexion at the hip joint – play a huge role in fluid running, so a set of tight flexors can really mess with your mechanics.
‘The iliopsoas is the strongest group of muscles in the hip flexors, connecting the spine to the femur, and it’s what helps contract and pull the thigh towards the torso, allowing you to bring your knee towards your chest as you run,’ says Amanda Nurse, an elite marathon runner, running coach and yoga instructor. When running, you’re regularly shortening that muscle, never lengthening it; this can lead to imbalances.
Sitting all day (eg desk job, long flights or car travel) can make matters worse. ‘The more time we spend sitting, the more the iliopsoas shortens,’ says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist. ‘The shorter that muscle, the shorter your stride becomes – and that throws off your natural gait, which can create compensations that lead to injury in the muscles that work to move us forward and stabilise us as we run.’
That’s why it’s crucial, now more than ever, to give your hips some TLC. ‘Never before has strength training, stretching and mobility work been more important for runners,’ says Holland. ‘All day, we do the unnatural – sitting – and then we try to do the natural – running – and our bodies aren’t ready for it.’ To run far more efficiently (and, crucially, without pain), strategically opening and also strengthening your hip flexors needs to be part of your running routine.