This is part 4 of the article How to Run Faster… at any Age as we start going into Technical Competency and Sprinting Efficiency. Part 2 talked about the importance of coordination. Part 3 talked about Hip Height and Sprinting.
I would classify training the hip flexors more of a strength endurance exercise.
In short, Strong hip flexors allow for a faster and more powerful forward leg movement and upward knee drive, as well as a good complement for Training the Posterior Chain.
I also believe training the hip flexors have a key role in injury prevention, and you’ll have to go back to my article on Hamstring Injuries, the Iliopsoas and Imbalances to understand why.
When you are running the 200 or 400 meters, and fatigue sets in, having strong hip flexors will carry you through the line. Just watch a track meet and you’ll see the hips “collapse” in novices.
Here are some of the popular hip flexor exercises to strengthen them. Be sure to stretch the hip flexor afterwards with a good set of lunges and with a foam roller.
- Slow Running A’s or High Knees. I still have memories of my 9 years with Coach Dennis Barrett doing these. Basically, it’s running on the spot with high knees, but not too high high where the hips drops. This would be an oxymoron to hip height. The arms are fluid, like a running action. Relaxation is key. We start with 3 sets of 10 meters and build up to 50 meters or more throughout the season. The key is form, and you should stop the exercise when form deteriorates. Cues are “stay tall”, “relax”, “good arms”, and “lean forward”.
- Cable (or Band) Knee Drives. 3 sets of 10 reps. Usain Bolt reportedly does these, so it must be good? Using a low cable pulley and an ankle cuff attachment, stand so that the cable has pressure, but not enough to whip you backwards. Drive your knee explosively up to your chest. Keep the movement controlled as you lower. Using band will give a different feel, and thus you’ll have to really accelerate the initial explosive movement. Make sure the upper body stays tall and this will work your core as well.
- Knee Drives (no weight). 3 sets of 25 or 30 reps. This is the same as the above, but you simple drive your knee and your foot lands on a small box or chair in front of you. Make sure when you drive with the knee, the opposite arm goes backwards.
- Lying Cable Knee Drive. This is the same as number 2 above, but you are lying on your back and you attach the ankle cuffs to the cable pulley at floor height, and bring both knees to the chest one at a time.
- Spread Eagle Sit-ups. This is the same as doing crunches, but with your legs straight and spread preferably resting on a squat rack, wall, or door frame. Add a light weight for added resistance.
- Hanging Knee or Leg Raises. Hang from a pull up bar or some other apparatus, keeping your upper body straight, and either (1) bring knee to chest or (2) straight legs to parallel
- Incline Bench Leg Raises. If weak arms is your limiting factor for the above exercise, try the same exercise on an 45 degree angle on a sit up bench.