Use this classic yoga pose to improve strength and flexibility in your hip muscles.
Written by: Sage Rountree
Imbalances in the muscles around your hip can have dire consequences for your running. Specifically, a strength deficit in the gluteus medius relative to the quads and hamstrings can foment IT band trouble, knee pain, even plantar fasciitis. Here is a yoga move that can help you isolate and strengthen your glutes while also building core strength and developing balance in the muscles of your lower leg.
The pose is Warrior III, sometimes called Balancing Stick (in Sanskrit, Virabhadrasana III). I walk you through all the steps in this video.
Start by finding a tall, steady stance. Your feet should be directly under your hips, where they land when you run. That will align your ankles under your knees, and your knees under your hips. Level your pelvis, so that it’s in a stable, neutral position. When it’s there, your pubic bone and hip points will be aligned, and your core muscles will kick in to support you like a corset. On up the chain, pull in to center: slide your lower ribs back toward your spine, lower your shoulder blades down your back, and drop your chin slightly toward your chest. This position, which we call mountain pose in yoga, should feel balanced and surprisingly like work.
Keeping this alignment, take your weight into your left foot. Don’t “lock out” your left knee by kicking it into hyperextension; instead, keep a tiny bend in the knee. Hold your right hip level with your left. If you can keep alignment up your core here, continue onward: fold forward from the left hip and crease toward a position that has your torso and right leg parallel to the ground. Your hands can be by your hips, in front of your chest, or, for more work, extended out in front of you. Continue to hold your pelvis square to the ground; don’t let your right hip roll upward. Push out firmly through the right heel, with the right kneecap facing the ground. See whether you might be able to relax a little in the lower left leg while still balancing. Repeat on the second side.
You can move in and out of the pose, pulsing into the fold and back up. This would serve as a dynamic warm-up for your glutes, your hamstrings, your core, and your lower leg. Or, after your run, come into the pose and hold it for a few breaths. (Start with five, build to ten. In time, you could add sets.) This will help you build strength in the hip and core, as well as challenge your focus and balance. If you’re holding your breath, you’re pushing too hard.
Sage Rountree, Runner’s World’s yoga expert, is author of The Athlete’s Guide to Yoga and The Athlete’s Pocket Guide to Yoga. In addition to teaching yoga workshops nationwide, she is an active coach with certifications from USA Triathlon and the RRCA.