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Do novice runners have weak hips and bad running form?

Running is a globally popular recreational and competitive sport. The easily accessible nature of running results in countless numbers of people donning a pair of running shoes for the first time each year in an attempt to get their exercise buzz. Unfortunately, around 70% of new runners fall victim to overuse injuries each year.Much research has emphasised the link between poor running form and the development of overuse injuries. Consequently, today’s blog focuses on some interesting research undertaken by Anne Schmitz and colleagues at the University of Kentucky, who explored the much-debated subject of hip stabilising muscle weakness and its influence on running technique. Moreover, they were interested to see if these variables differed between novice and experienced runners.

The authors recruited 19 experienced (group 1) and 19 novices (group 2) runners to participate in a laboratory-based experimental study, all of which were free of injury. Prior to undertaking running technique analysis, both groups were assessed for maximal strength at different muscles at the hip as well as side-plank endurance times. With the aid of a biomechanical software package, running analysis was then performed with participants on a standard treadmill. Results revealed that compared to the experienced runners, the novice group had a greater amount of inward rolling of the knee and thighbone of the standing leg whilst running. Interestingly, this inward rolling at the hip or collapse at the knee is often associated with an array of overuse injuries and weakness at the hips is usually blamed for this. Nevertheless, no difference was found between the two groups in any of the hip strength measurements, thus arguing the notion that hip weakness is directly related to this abnormality in technique.

The authors highlighted an interesting finding when looking at the side-plank endurance times. A correlation was found showing that the group with the lower scores on side-plank endurance had the greater amount of inward rolling of the leg whilst running. The side-plank was used as a test of core muscle strength and endurance in the torso. Consequently, the authors concluded that poor conditioning in this area may contribute to poor technique and possibly overuse injury.The findings from this research provide food for thought, indicating that possibly too much emphasis has been on hip strength with runners and that our core stomach muscles may be more influential for good running mechanics. Furthermore, the study suggests that novice runners may have a deficit in core-strength. However, it is important to consider that all research has both strengths and limitations.

Strengths 

  • Both groups of athletes were similar in terms of age, gender, body weight and height. This means that the groups were comparable and results were not influenced by differences in any of these factors.

The authors set out clear instructions about how the research was conducted, making it clear for the reader to interpret the process of testing.Limitations

  • Some of the runners in the experienced group had only been running for 1 year. Had the criteria been a minimum of 5 or 10 years running experienced the results may have been different.
  • As well as targeting the core, the side plank exercise requires equally sufficient strength in the hip stabilising muscles. Consequently, the link between poor side-plank endurance and greater inward rolling at the hip in the novice runners may have been a reflection of a lack of hip stabiliser endurance rather than core muscle endurance.

As with most research, this is not conclusive and requires some support and tweaking from similar scientific studies. However, this research provides some good ideas for runners who are aiming to incorporate some strength and conditioning into their regime. Practising your side plank may have a positive effect on the mechanics of your lower limbs whilst running, and possibly help prevent injury.Thankfully at Physio.co.uk, we can offer our patients a bespoke running biomechanics service with slow-motion video analysis and training program in addition to our a regular Pilates classes to keep that core strong and YOU injury free.

 

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