“One Tensor Fascia Latae, please.”

“It sounds like a drink from Starbucks,” Sifu was saying. There have been six weeks and two massages since my hip first started hurting. The new strengthening routine seemed to be the culprit so I skipped this new routine for a whole week.

As Sifu pulled and stretched the muscle just below my hip bone, he said, “Your Tensor Fascia Latae is very unhappy.” Good lord, I’ve found something new to injure.

He spelled it out so I could research this new pain. Turns out, the TFL is the muscle that controls the ability to put one foot in front of the other. It is a broad sheath that runs along the outer side of the thigh (like a cowboy’s chaps).

Why do distance runners have weak hips?

imageDistance runners start out with a good stride length. As we age and keep running, the stride tends to shorten over time. This is due to weakness in the hips and a loss of overall lower body flexibility. Training the muscles of the hips can have a huge impact on performance for distance athletes.

Research shows the main difference between walking, running and sprinting to be at the hip. The ankle and knee joints go through about the same range of motion for all three activities. But, when increasing speed, the hips must be more active. Because distance runners don’t normally sprint, there is little need for the muscles around the hips to be strong.

Another problem: runners tend to only run straight ahead thus, the hips have no reason to work in multiple planes of motion. The most immediate improvements for long time distance runners is to perform agility drills. Multidirectional movements will force the hip muscles to activate and improvements are immediate as the hips turn back on.

How did this happen?

Sifu explained all the ways this muscle could have become aggravated. Most of the reasons had nothing to do with running – except, of course, that the hip muscles may have been in a weakened state already.

A weakened TFL can tug on the knee and vice versa He was saying, if you have knee problems it might be wise to strengthen the hip. And, if you have an injured TFL, you may feel it in the knee.

One of my most common mistakes is to “overdo” the strengthening routine — too many reps, too much weight, too many exercises. A strengthening routine that wears you out becomes a workout rather than a supplement to your core sport. I had been holding a 5lb weight between my knees as part of a Kung Fu practice session. I’m pretty sure this placed too much pressure on the TFL causing it to become aggravated.

Take a look at the links below for specific exercises that will strengthen the hips and make you a stronger runner. The best advice you may find in these links, however, is to begin a strengthening program slowly. Even the simplest exercise routine can leave you sore or injured if done too aggressively. Case in point, me.


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