How to Strengthen the Hip Complex

by Karli Taylor

How many times have you heard that all that pounding involved in running is bad for your knees? (insert eye roll here)

Though it is true that many runners experience chronic knee pain, it is not necessarily the pummeling of the pavement wearing out our knee joints as our non-runner friends tend to believe.

Did you know that chronic joint pain is often a symptom of a muscular imbalance around a completely different joint in the body? Crazy right?

One of the most common causes of knee pain is hip weakness. The muscles that create our hip complex serve as the stabilizers for our entire bodies and weak hips can lead to chronic issues including:

  • IT Band Syndrome
  • Piriformis Syndrome
  • Runner’s Knee
  • Achilles tendinitis

If you are trying to figure out what you will look like with built-up hip muscles, stop right there! In this case, our strength training goal is to create balance and stability within the hip complex so the appropriate muscles carry the load of our movements.

As the name suggests, the hip complex is a bit complicated! To keep it simple, we are focused on the following major groups of muscles:

  • The hip flexors, which raise the leg in front of the body from the hip.
  • The adductors, which move the leg inwards and across the body and are the primary driver in creating knee stability.
  • The glutes, which move the leg out to the side, behind the body from the hip and internally and externally rotate it.

To strengthen and improve movement through the hips, try incorporating some multi-directional lunges into your warm- up.

To stretch the hips, try adding supta kapotasana , or reclined pigeon to your cool down.

Click here for video

Start by lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor hip-distance apart. Cross your left ankle over your right thigh, flex your left foot and use your left hand to gentle press the left knee away from the body. The external rotation that this causes at the top of your hip will start to stretch the hip flexor. With every exhale, press the thigh or knee away a bit more. This may be the perfect version of this pose for you.

To go deeper, pull your right knee in toward your chest, thread your left arm through the triangle between your legs and clasp your hands around the back of your right leg. If your head and shoulders lift off of the ground in order to hold the leg, try using a strap or a towel to make the leg more accessible without creating tension in the neck and shoulders. As you draw your right leg in toward you, continue to press your left knee away from you. If you feel like the left knee is folding inward, place the right foot back on the floor and focus solely on the external rotation.

Don’t forget to repeat on side two!

In addition to stretching the hip flexor, reclined pigeon pose:

  • Relieves sciatica or piriformis issues
  • Improves digestion
  • Releases lower back tension
  • Improves circulation in the hips, lower back and lower body    
  • Stretches the thighs, gluteals and piriformis muscles

Karli Taylor: Yoga For Runners Archive

 Karli’s classes at Fleet Feet have been changed to Keep Fit on Carmen Road now on Wednesdays at 7:30.



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