Keeping Your Hips Squared May Make You an Efficient Forefoot Runner

When running, keeping your hips squared, or aligning the hip bones straight in the direction you are running, may markedly improve leg kinematics, especially for forefoot strike runners.

Below, shows Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar, the best female distance runners in the world.  As you can see, their hips are ‘squared’ and their thighs do not point inward like the runners on the right.

Maintaining square hips improves running economy

If you watch Dibaba or Defar run, they have a smooth, rhythmic flow compared to many North American runners who often appear stiff, rigid, and tight in the hips.

When we walk, our hips are usually ‘squared’ and our thighs are spaced apart. But try walking with your thighs close to each other. Walking becomes difficult as this acts as a restraint and you lose that ‘smoothness’.  The same applies to running: the greater the space between your thighs (thigh gap), the smoother you may be able to run.

  • Dibaba and Defar may have better hip/femoral alignment than many recreational runners. A straightened object will always move more efficiently than one that is twisted and crooked.  Likewise, a car with poor alignment (shown below) makes for a bump ride which is how running will feel if your thighs point inward and your hips aren’t squared.

Poor car alignment

Good Hip/Femoral Alignment in Ethiopian Runners

Many Ethiopian distance runners, female and male, have similar hip/femoral alignment to Dibaba and Defar.

Research in the past has pointed out that weak hip flexors and adductors cause the thighs to point inward when running and has been implicated in ITBS and runner’s knee.

However, it is obvious that hip weakness is a non-issue for North American elite runners. Just look at their muscle mass and definition compared to many Ethiopian runners who are much slender. Based on muscle mass, you would expect Ethiopian runners to show more internal rotation of the thighs compared to big, strong North American runners. But this is not the case.

So, what accounts for the good hip/femoral alignment in Ethiopian runners? Barefoot running.

Ethiopian runners, like Dibaba and Defar, ran barefoot for over a decade. Therefore, barefoot running must have some bearing on their straighter hip/femoral alignment.  Not only that, North American runners, like myself, wore shoes even before learning to walk and certain types of footwear have been shown to influence a heel strike running pattern and lower extremity weakness.

Mechanically, barefoot running and shod-influenced heel strike running require different demands of different muscle groups, including the hip flexors and adductors/abductors.

Unsurprisingly, there’s limited research on the relationship between barefoot running and hip/femoral alignment.  I have every reason to believe that a connection exists.

My Experience with Squaring my Hips

I was a heel striker bombarded with injuries and therefore switched to forefoot running. I have been injury-free ever since, until I suffered ITBS.

After reviewing a video analysis of my gait, I noticed my thighs pointed inward and I had a narrow step width, or a crossover gait!

I researched the cause(s) of ITBS in runners and found ITBS is primarily caused by a narrow step width gait in runners.

Widening step width helps the thighs point straight when running, and leads to squared hips.

Watching Dibaba run also gave me a better idea as to how my thighs and hips should look when running.

To combat my ITBS, I ran with the painful condition and made the conscious effort to increase my thigh-gap or “spread my legs” while I ran, for lack of better terms.

Not only did my ITBS vanish, I ran smoother, my foot-strike position was closer to my body, the ground felt softer beneath my feet, and I was able to run longer.

Thighs pointing inward when running

Initially, I felt as if I was running ‘bull-legged, but this was a false perception. Anytime you change your mechanics, the motions feel oddly different until you adapt.  The important thing was, squaring my hips and widening my step-width felt comfortable, my legs felt less restrained when I ran.

If you are a heel striker transitioning to forefoot running and something still doesn’t feel right with your stride, try ‘squaring’ your hips, or increasing your thigh-gap, making sure to keep both knees bent -this will help land on your forefoot close to the body. For me, that was the missing link to smoother, easier forefoot running.  Try it.

More From Run Forefoot:

Run forefoot because you are faster than you think!

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!

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